COLUMBIA — The silence in MU's Ellis Auditorium was absolute as retired Lt. Gen. Jim L. Campbell strode to the front of the room Wednesday afternoon to speak to ROTC cadets about leadership.
Addressing more than 50 fully uniformed cadets, Campbell’s business suit and smiling eyes fit his relaxed demeanor.
“One thing I was told that I will never forget when I became a general,” Campbell said, "(is) always get your own coffee—it keeps you humble.”
Despite his 37 years in service as a highly decorated officer — Campbell earned a Bronze Star — the general said he's never allowed his rank or experience go to his head.
“I’ve never felt like Gen. Campbell; I have always just felt like Jim Campbell,” he said.
Originally invited by the Truman School of Public Affairs to speak about selfless service, he jumped at the chance to speak to ROTC students. He spoke about developing a strong sense of nonnegotioable personal integrity.
“It doesn’t make any difference how many stars or stripes you wore, but how you served the people you work with,” Campbell said. In what he called “Keys to Success,” Campbell used his life experiences to convey the importance of teamwork and trust. “This is our team. Are you with us or not? It's called commitment.”
Tearing up, Campbell recalled one of his many visits to an airbase filled with soldiers ready to deploy to Iraq. He was there to personally thank them for their service and ended up talking with one soldier’s mother on a cell phone.
“She said, ‘General, please take care of my son’, and that’s why I do what I do,” he said.
Campbell believes the MU ROTC program provides many of the fundamentals needed to cultivate strong leadership and service skills. He chuckled and said that “Crowder Hall hasn’t changed a lick, it's like walking back in time.”
But not everything is as he remembers. Because of the ongoing war, many ROTC students these days are called to serve abroad.
“It’s such a different Army now. Different in the sense that it is such a battle-tested Army,” Campbell said.
“After they have had these experiences, after they have done the things we ask them, made life-and-death decisions, we can’t bring them back to Fort Fill-in-the-blank and say we haven’t got anything for you today, or our training isn’t ready. We have to be on top of our game.”
Since retiring from the military, Campbell has worked in Alexandria, Va., near Washington, D.C., as chief of staff for a supply company for the U.S. Department of Defense.
Campbell graduated from MU with a bachelor's degree in physical education in 1971. He earned his master's degree in physical education at the University of Illinois and a master’s degree in arts and national security and strategic studies from the U.S. Naval War College.
Campbell believes that his service has given him a strong sense of self.
“Stand for something in your life,” said Campbell. “Don’t look now, but you only get one chance.”