Campbell to serve country at sea

Posted 7/4/24

On the morning of Friday, July 5, most people in Wood County will be recovering from a Fourth of July celebration, whether that was a crowded fireworks show or sitting on the back porch lighting …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Campbell to serve country at sea


On the morning of Friday, July 5, most people in Wood County will be recovering from a Fourth of July celebration, whether that was a crowded fireworks show or sitting on the back porch lighting sparklers with family.

One young man, however, knows exactly where he will be at 0700 hours on July 5.

Travis Easton Campbell will be walking through the doors of O’Hara Hall on the grounds of the United States Merchant Marine Academy. As recommended by the academy, the Campbell family will have one last chance for photos before Easton steps into a new world. 

The pre-arrival briefing for families acknowledges that there might be a chance to sight their son later in the day, but as the whole group will be outfitted in the same physical training attire, and will have just received a haircut, chances are the family wouldn’t be able to identify their son. 

By walking through those doors, Easton will have become a merchant marine plebe candidate – the launching point of what could be a long and rewarding career at sea. 

That first step is a bit of a doozy. Indoctrination is designed to be physically difficult, mentally challenging and character testing. It focuses on overcoming deficiencies to enhance the success of a team. Although not found in the recruiting literature, it is also a bit of a weeding-out process.  

The short 2+ weeks of culture shock are followed by acceptance of the new class as plebes into the regiment of midshipman.

The path to a congressional appointment is a bit of a long-winding road, understandably so. The service academies of the nation – the Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. (founded 1802), the Naval Academy at Annapolis, Md. (founded 1845), the Coast Guard Academy at New London, Conn. (founded 1876), the Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, N.Y. (founded 1943); and the Air Force Academy at Colorado Springs, Colo. (founded 1954) – are populated by young people who have a calling to defend the nation. 

In return for the sacrifice of one’s service, the academies provide (at taxpayer expense) a technical education of the highest order and an unparalleled learning and maturation experience. 

All appointees to service academies are so designated by the president, who approves the selections of nominations from across the land. Campbell’s nomination was sponsored through the office of Congressman Lance Gooden, who represents Texas District 5 in the U.S. House of Representatives. 

While congressional nominations are likely the most well-known, there are other routes to the academies. The president may appoint children of career military personnel, deceased or disabled veterans, military or civilian missing personnel and Medal of Honor awardees. The vice president has five nominations annually, and the service secretaries may nominate personnel already on active duty or affiliated with the reserves or in the Reserve Officer Training Corps. 

Texas District 5 is a uniquely-shaped district which covers a large swath from East Dallas southeast to Frankston, Wood County and large portions of rural Upshur County.  

“What we found out,” explained Easton’s father, C.H. Campbell, “was that there were many applicants from the populated areas of the district around Dallas, but very few from the large, rural parts of the district.” 

Before the possibility of an academy nomination was a topic of discussion around the Campbell kitchen table, it was on the mind of former active-duty Marine and Alba-Golden English teacher David Curry.

As Easton related, “Mr. Curry caught me in the hallway one day last fall. He waved me in and told me, ‘I have this opportunity for you.’” Curry stressed the word, ‘you.’

After digesting the information and doing requisite research, Easton and his family began the multi-faceted application process. It is thorough. From academics to medical standing, from psychological make-up (through interviews) to recommendations and exhibited leadership skills, there are few stones left unturned.   

Easton applied for the Naval Academy and the Merchant Marine Academy. He admitted that he had a bit of wanderlust and the thought of traveling the world appealed to him. 

The screening process had some unique requirements. From measuring how far one could throw a basketball while kneeling – a test of core strength – to an interview before a panel of representatives from each of the service academies, the process itself was quite an experience. 

Easton kept a well-grounded perspective through it all. “I know it will be tough, and I have prepared for that. I know my strengths and weaknesses, and have always been able to take care of myself.” 

What lies ahead, after indoctrination and acceptance, is a first-rate technical education, a practical year at sea within the four years of academic study, and selection to serve as either a merchant marine officer or to accept a commission in a sister service.   

Founded during the middle of the Second World War, the Merchant Marine Academy was commissioned to fill the officer billets of U.S.-flagged merchant ships. Largely unknown to the general public is the fact that the U.S. Merchant Marine suffered the greatest percentage of killed-in-action of any branch of service in WWII. 

Today, the nation operates around 200 U.S.-flagged vessels. Many conduct critical military support missions and while others are configurable to fill especially unique tasks at sea. 

Each of those ships requires qualified crews and American officers to lead them.  

Speaking with Easton and C.H., the sense of excitement surrounding this opportunity for Easton was very real and shared equally. As C.H. noted, “If I had this chance as a youngster, I would jump on it.”

And Easton, soon to be called by his given first name, Travis, was succinct, “I can’t wait to start telling sea stories of my own.”