TCU Army ROTC cadet Jarrod McClendon is not a typical college junior.
At 29 years old, he has five years of service in the Army under his belt, and it is hard to believe that he was once a young man without direction.
One mentor said he remembered McClendon being a “misguided youth.” TCU, his dream school, rejected him twice. Despite the difficult road he took to get where he is today, McClendon said the obstacles have changed him for the better.
“In a way, the losses that I’ve experienced, the things that I went through on active duty – I honestly think they made me a man,” he said.
Sitting in Limbo:
A Fort Worth native, McClendon graduated from Eastern Hills High School in 2002.
His mother Beverly said he did not really have a direction or a purpose. He was interested in so many things, she said, that he failed to make any “really concrete” goals for his future.
He was “just sitting in limbo waiting for something to happen, but not really making anything happen,” she said.
He took a job at the Federal Protective Service regional office in Grand Prairie, where Patrick Moses was his supervisor.
Moses said he saw potential in McClendon and decided to mentor the young man.
“He was a rough actor,” Moses said, laughing, “and what I would consider a misguided youth who just really needed some structure and some good lecturing.”
Moses said he pushed McClendon, making him write career goals and giving him books to read about success, leadership and spirituality. He said McClendon was often “ticked off” by his prodding, but that he saw the young man like the son he never had.
Since he was not admitted to TCU, McClendon enrolled in Tarrant County College. However, his lack of focus and direction made his first attempt at college a failure.
“I did a horrible job of it. I made an attempt,” Jarrod said of his time at TCC. “Of course, because of life itself we get handed these cards and it’s all about how you play them, and I didn’t play mine very well. So I had to regroup. And luckily, the Army takes lost boys.”
Making a Choice:
The “lost boy” enlisted in the Army in October 2007 at age 23, despite protests from a number of people, including Moses.
“I tried my best to persuade him not to go to the military,” Moses said. “Because I was being self-centered…I really wanted him to pursue a career that I was pursuing.”
McClendon said a number of family members disagreed with his decision because they were afraid he would be deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan.
Nonetheless, he said he wanted to join the military because it offered him the structure that Moses always talked about.
“I’m thinking, ‘Hey, this is probably the best thing for me, because I need a fresh start,’” McClendon said. “And the Army offered that.”
“For the longest time, there was something about an Army soldier,” he said. “You’d see them in their uniform and be like, ‘I’m afraid of this guy and I don’t know why.’ He has this mystique about him.”
His mother said the Army set him on a new path.
“He really did a 180,” she said, “as far as goals, being focused, brotherhood, being a part of team and just being more selfless.”
Moses, despite his initial protests, said joining the Army ended up being the right decision for McClendon.
“I am convinced that the military saved his life,” Moses said. “The military is one of the best things that could have happened to him.”
McClendon served five years on active duty, mostly at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. He earned the rank of sergeant and learned to command soldiers, becoming a leader with a purpose.
“He started exemplifying the man that he really wanted to be,” his mother said.
“Grinding” for an Old Goal:
When he was discharged in 2012, McClendon said he still dreamed of being a Horned Frog.
He enrolled in TCC that fall and applied to TCU in the spring of 2013, only to be denied again. He was deflated at first, his mother said. But unlike the last time, he was driven to achieve his goal.
“When he got back up,” she said, “he dusted himself off. He said, ‘No. I’m not accepting this. I know I’m better than this. I know I can get into TCU.’ And that’s what he did.”
By the fall of 2013, he had taken 41 hours and raised his GPA enough to get into his dream school.
“He was grinding,” his mother said with a laugh.
McClendon enrolled at the university in August with the aid of an ROTC scholarship. Once again, the military provided an avenue for him to get to a better place.
“Obviously Jarrod was one that was determined and would not give up getting into TCU,” Maj. Eddie Smith, enrollment officer for TCU Army ROTC, said.
Smith said McClendon immediately took on a leadership role and that within a few months the other cadets began to look at him as a role model.
“Amazing. Amazing. Amazing,” Smith said of McClendon’s brief time on campus.
Smith said during his time at the university he had “never seen anybody just jump into leadership like that.”
McClendon is slated to graduate in spring 2015 with a degree in general studies and an emphasis in biology. Completing the ROTC program will make him a commissioned officer in the Army.
That milestone will be just another accomplishment on what has been a long, hard road for McClendon. He looks very different from the person he was when he graduated high school, and he said he credits that to the way he learned to react in the face of adversity.
“It’s not about what happens to you,” McClendon said. “It’s how you respond. So rather than take it and kind of falter, I’ve had to adapt and overcome.”