“Seeing The World In A Different Way”: 29 Years As A Soldier, An NCO, And An Officer

Makonen Campbell


Mak Campbell served in the Army for 29 years, 15 as an Enlisted Soldier and 14 as an Officer after commissioning through OCS (Officer Candidate School). He was born in Charlotte, North Carolina, in 1975 and was raised with two brothers. His father did mill work in a factory, and his mother was a teacher who now runs her own daycare business. As a boy, he learned lessons in teamwork from comics (X-Men and GI-Joe were his favorites) and he played “war.” He was an “angry kid” and fought a lot as a child, but his parents were a “steadying influence” on him. He became a parent while in high school, forcing him to grow up and get a job. He graduated from high school at 17, moved to Dallas for a job, and joined the Army for more stability. He initially enlisted as a cook, but his uncle convinced him to become a medic. In Basic Training at Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri, “you learned what mattered,” including important lessons on Army Values and taking care of people. Next, he reported to Ft. Sam Houston, Texas, for medical training, which he felt was top notch. They worked hard during the week, and on weekends he was able to enjoy the San Antonio area. Jump school was next, and he required treatment after hurting his hip on the final jump. Since he missed the graduation ceremony and getting his wings pinned, he thought he had failed to complete the course (a misperception that he maintained until an alert Soldier in an S1 Shop pointed out that he had in fact completed airborne training after Mak finished the school for the second time). His first assignment was JRTC (Joint Readiness Training Center) at Ft. Polk, Louisiana, but since he believed that he was not airborne qualified, he was transferred to the 115th Field Hospital as a ground medic. He transferred to the 36th MedEvac, learning his craft through on-the-job training and serving as a flight medic on a Huey. By the time he made E5, he reenlisted for Ft. Stewart, Georgia, and volunteered for the Ranger program. Not knowing how to swim disqualified him from Ranger school, and he joined 3-7 Cavalry. While assigned to the 7th Cavalry, he deployed to Kuwait in 1999 and Bosnia in 2001. He then received orders for Germany, but September 11th reshaped the environment. He was assigned to the 557th MedEvac Company in Wiesbaden, Germany, and had to learn how to be a flight medic on a Blackhawk helicopter. He was then sent to the 159th MedEvac Company for a deployment to Baghdad, Iraq, in 2003. A deployment to Afghanistan followed. In both Iraq and Afghanistan, he experienced hair-raising missions, sometimes on Hot LZs. His next assignment was a return to Ft. Polk, this time as an OC (Observer Controller) at JRTC as an E7 who made the promotion list to Master Sergeant. It was while he was an OC that he put in his OCS packet, and he commissioned in 2009 as an Armor Officer. While at OCS, he first saw advertisements for teaching history at West Point, and as a 2LT he began communicating with LTC Ray Hrinko about the possibility of an assignment at the Military Academy. He was then assigned to Ft. Hood, where he served in 6-9 Cavalry as a Platoon Leader in C Troop, an XO in B Troop, and an XO, MEDO, and S3 in HHC. From 2011 to 2012, he deployed to Al Kut, Iraq. Next, he commanded a cavalry troop in 2-1 Cavalry at Ft. Carson, Colorado. He was then accepted to teach history at West Point, and after earning a Master’s Degree at Clemson University, he reported to the History Department at USMA. In the spring of 2023, he retired from the Army, and he plans to earn a PhD in history. In this interview, Mak talks about his childhood, his drive to succeed, and his Army experiences as a Soldier, an NCO, and an Officer. He provides gripping details of some of his lifesaving missions in combat, including riding a hoist down from a helicopter while being shot at to rescue wounded and pinned-down Solders. He describes teaching at West Point, and the passion he has for his Cadets and the mission. Throughout the interview, he includes detailed analysis of the lessons he has learned along the way. Finally, he reflects on what his service and West Point mean to him.


name Makonen Campbell
institution Clemson
service Flight Medic / Armor
unit 115th Field Hospital; 36th Med Evac; 3-7 Cavalry; 557th Med Evac Company; 159th Med Evac; JRTC OC; OCS; 6-9 Cavalry; C Troop 2-1 Cavalry; Department of History
specialty Department of History
service dates 1994 2023