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Crippen, Graeff both receive ROTC national scholarships

Barry McNamara
11/15/2019
Brandon Graeff, left, and Brock Crippen, right, were congratulated on their ROTC national scholarships by retired Brig. Gen. Chris Lawson '88 following the College's Veterans Day ceremony.
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MONMOUTH, Ill. – It was fitting that on Veterans Day, Monmouth College juniors Brock Crippen of East Peoria, Ill., and Brandon Graeff of Murphysboro, Ill., sat down together to discuss a major achievement in their lives.

Both students, who are enrolled in the ROTC program and are part of the Leatherneck Battalion at Western Illinois University, recently learned they’d received ROTC national scholarships, which cover their tuition at Monmouth.

“To be selected as an ROTC national scholarship recipient is rare,” said Monmouth Associate Vice President for Student Financial Planning Jayne Schreck. “To have two recipients in one year at Monmouth is nearly unheard of.”

Later in the day, Crippen and Graeff were congratulated by another person with ties to Monmouth’s ROTC program – retired Brig. Gen. Chris Lawson, a 1988 Monmouth graduate who gave the keynote speech at the College’s Veterans Day ceremony.

“It means a lot to me,” said Graeff of the scholarship. “They actually told me about it while I was giving blood. It was a shell shock to me at first. It’s going to do a lot for me and my family.”

Neither Graeff nor Crippen participated in ROTC as freshmen, although each had the military on his mind.

“I’ve always had a thing for the military,” said Graeff, who’s majoring in business and economics. “Once I got in my sophomore year, I knew it was for me.”

A political science major, Crippen spent his freshman year at Illinois Central College in his hometown before transferring to Monmouth as a sophomore.

“Quite a few of my family members are in the military,” he said. “I’d like to pay it forward, as well, just like they have. I’m excited to serve my country. ... I highly recommend other students trying out ROTC. You don’t have to fully commit to it until your junior year.”

A member of the football team, Graeff said he is drawn to military service for many of the same reasons he’s enjoyed playing sports throughout his life.

“I like the team aspect of the military,” he said. “It fits into my life. In our training, you go out and do things, but it’s always with someone else. It really reminds me of sports – the waking up early, the respect, the mental toughness that’s required.”

The military really sharpens that latter aspect, he said.

“Physically, you can do anything,” he said, before pointing to his head. “It’s right here that limits you.”

Crippen has also appreciated his mental training.

“I’ve grown a lot,” he said. “The military really teaches you to think on your feet and be able to adapt. Things change quickly out in the field.”

The pair has also learned about leadership and about what style of it best suits them.

“One of the most impactful times for me was when our drill sergeant sat us down and just talked with us,” said Crippen. “He said, ‘You’re going to be in charge of people, so I’m trying to make you the best you can be.’ He reached a lot of people with that talk, more so than if he’d just gotten in our face and screamed at us.”

Moments like that confirm a point that Lawson made during his Monmouth talk – that relationships are at the heart of military service.

“People in the Army really care about you,” said Crippen. “It’s been really interesting to learn other people’s stories and their background.”

Crippen and Graeff attended basic training last summer at Fort Knox in Kentucky, and they’ll return next summer for the six-week advanced basic training.