By Rachael TolliverAugust 14, 2013
By Rachael Tolliver
US Army Cadet Command
We all have them--lined up and neatly labeled--and sometimes, if we are lucky, we get to see them through. But sometimes, the best results aren't from the first set of goals we pursue.
Playing professional football was the main goal Anderson Mack, a junior at Florida International University, had set his eyes on while playing strong safety at Martin Luther King High School in Decatur Ga.
During his senior year Mack was listed as one of the best players in his position in Georgia, and was offered numerous college scholarships.
"I had been playing football since I was five years old," Mack explained. "It was part of my heart. I was playing strong safety in high school and was offered a scholarship to Auburn playing wide receiver. I chose Auburn because I wanted to play pro-football and I knew that a lot of players from Auburn went pro. I had a lot of options but I chose Auburn. "
He was majoring in biology, doing well overall, had red-shirted his freshman year and was starting his sophomore year when a trip to the grocery store interrupted his goal of playing pro-ball.
"(I was riding my motorcycle) and I didn't have my leathers on, only a pair of shorts and a tee-shirt. The car in front of me stopped and had no turn signal on, so I went around it--but then it turned. Right into me. I hit the side of the car and flipped over it," he recounted.
"My helmet (had come) off and when I woke up I could see my ankle was in a funny position. So I popped it back in. I also saw that the bone in my arm was sticking out---I was in shock and trying to just press it back together but it kept popping out. People on the scene kept telling me to relax and told me I was bleeding."
Mack said that when the ambulance got to the scene and he was explaining what happened, he couldn't finish his sentences because by then it hurt to breath. When he got to the hospital he found out that in addition to a fractured arm and glass embedded in his other arm, he had a collapsed lung and a fracture orbit--the area around the eye.
"That year we played South Carolina in the Georgia dome for the 2010 SEC championships and we won," he added. "And the BCS championship was in Arizona in January of 2011 and we beat Oregon (for that title)."
He was still a part of the team, received his rings and was on the mend, with a titanium plate in his arm. But later that year he got a call from one of his coaches. The coach told him he could try out again the following year but they had to let him go because he was not able to perform the way he had before the accident.
"So I didn't sweat it…." he said. "I went to my plan B about moving down to Miami where my mother was moving to, and I applied to and got accepted into Florida International University. I came in with 60 transfer credits from Auburn and changed my major to psychology. My plan B was to go into the military so I looked into the Army ROTC program."
Mack said that he always kept plan B in his pocket--just in case. That plan was one he had sat on since childhood and had started with his grandfather. Mack's mother was a single parent raising three sons and he said he looked to his grandfather, who still lives in the Louisville Ky., area, whenever he needed guidance.
"My grandfather was a first sergeant during Vietnam and was stationed at Fort Knox. He did 12 years as infantry, four years as a cook and about eight years as a drill sergeant," the cadet recounted. "He was my role model coming up. My mom was a single parent and I didn't communicate with my father that much. So I went to my grandfather for advice and he would always talk to me and lead me in the right direction. We lived with them in Louisville for awhile when I was little."
He has a cousin who is serving in Korea, one who is deployed to Afghanistan and aunts and uncles who had also served adding, "the military is the back bone of my family so that was my plan B."
The benefits of Army ROTC, he said, are that he is learning different aspects about leadership and prioritization and because he is a member of the Army Reserve, as a horizontal construction engineer with the 388th Clearance Route Company, he gets money to go to school through the Simultaneous Membership Program.
"It's a combat engineer unit (841st Engineer Battalion) but we have a platoon of horizontal construction engineers," he explained. "By being in the Reserve you get the benefit of being in the military but staying at home and having your civilian life. It helps me with school (money), and it gives you that discipline that some people need to transfer into the civilian world"
The psychology major, co-captain of his school's ranger challenge team, said he is enjoying ROTC, and has the second highest PT score in the battalion.
Recently Mack returned from Tanzania, Africa where he taught conversational English to school children as part of the ROTCs Cultural Understanding and Language Proficiency program.
CULP allows cadets to travel to different countries on one of four missions: military to military, teaching English, State Partnership Program and humanitarian. Through these efforts cadets gain knowledge of different cultures, learn new languages, learn different ways of doing things, get to practice their leadership skills, and build relationships with other nations.
"This was really a fun experience. It opened my eyes to get a view of other parts of the world. Just to see how things are in a different area of the world," Mack explained. "I now have a heads up on how things are here--the different cultures, religions, tribes, customs and courtesies. And just to get a feel for the people over here."
Although he was teaching conversational English, he was also learning Swahili and getting to know Tanzanian culture, partly through the children he taught.
"If there was one thing I wanted to do and didn't with the kids it would be physical activity. Just going out and interacting physically--having them teach me their football because I am not familiar with their football and I can teach them American football," he explained. "And tour---they can show me parts of their homeland. But I am thankful for (the experiences) because it has changed me and made me thankful for what I have in life."
There are similarities between football and the Army, Mack added, for example, competitiveness. While serving is a team effort, everyone is trying to be the best at what they do.
"It is like being on the football field where everyone wants that starting position," he explained.
"In military terms they want to lead and want to give it their all."
The road to his plan B is different than his plan A, but Mack said he is still striving for that starting position, and his decision is working out fine.
"I have no issue with it because I like it," he said. "I liked the sport--football was part of my heart and it still will be, and I will always be an Auburn fan. But the Army is part of my heart now and I love it. I really want to make it my career--being an officer in the U.S. Army--so it's working out good."