Heralded high school naval unit’s leader to leave Port Angeles
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Port Angeles High School NJROTC instructor Maj. Leo Campbell reviews the uniform of student Robert Olea during a recent inspection. -- Photo by Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News

By Arwyn Rice
Peninsula Daily News

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PORT ANGELES — Port Angeles High School’s Navy Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps unit will bid goodbye at the end of the school year to a man who has led the program from rags to riches.

Retired U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Leo Campbell, who took over the program in August 2003, plans to move to Sioux Falls, S.D., for treatment at a specialty veterans hospital for an old service-related leg injury.

“I’m sorry to be leaving. I’m going to miss the kids,” Campbell said Tuesday.

Ten years ago, Roughrider Company, the only Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps program on the North Olympic Peninsula, was an under-strength, unheralded unit with 53 students.

It now has 112 students and is averaging about 120 students a year, said retired Navy Master Chief Petty Officer Jeff Perry, who assists Campbell with five daily NJROTC classes and a myriad of before- and after-school activities.

It also has achieved national recognition.

In 2004, Roughrider Company received an award for being the most improved in the nation.

A year later, it received the Distinguished Unit award, which is given to the top 20 percent of all NJROTC units, and received the honor seven years running.

Last year, the unit received the Distinguished Unit with Honors award, given to the top 10 percent of JROTC units.

“Within 10 years, it has slowly ramped up to being one of the top units in the nation,” Perry said.

Now, the NJROTC unit’s rifle, drill, color guard and fitness teams have had almost monthly regional competition wins.

Also, 98 percent of the students who remained in the unit through their senior year have graduated on time, Perry said.

The difference has been Campbell, his dedication to his students and his ability to work with the school, according to NROTC and school officials.

“Port Angeles was a pretty difficult school to get enrollment to where it was supposed to be,” said retired Navy Capt. Daniel Wen-ceslao, manager of NJROTC Area 13, based in Marysville.

Campbell, who arrived at the campus with a master’s degree in education, not only brought students into the program but also created a college credit program, according to the Area 13 manager.

“He pioneered the CTE [career and technical education] credit program for NJROTC,” Wenceslao said.

A similar program was adopted by the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction soon after, he said.

Wenceslao said that when other NJROTC schools ask about creating a CTE program, they are referred to Campbell.

Campbell has put in 60-80 hours of work every week, before school, after school and on weekends, Wenceslao said.

Campbell is a “mustang,” an officer who began his military career in the enlisted ranks before receiving a commission.

He enlisted in 1978 and by 1989 had reached the rank of gunnery sergeant.

In February 1980, he was commissioned and promoted to warrant officer.

He served in Operation Desert Storm and the Iraq War, and reached the rank of major before his retirement in July 2002.

He declined to say more about his injury, other than to say it is an old injury that never healed right.

Campbell is officially taking a leave of absence for a year for treatment.

But a medical evaluation completed last week indicated that he will be unlikely to be able to return in 2014, if ever, Campbell said Tuesday.

Once his treatment has ended, he has been offered the chance to take over a Marine Corps Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps unit at Lincoln High School in Sioux Falls, Campbell said.

Staying in Sioux Falls means that if he needs more treatment, the hospital is there, he said.

Superintendent Jane Pryne said she hoped there is a way that Campbell can return after a year.

“He has done an amazing job for all of our students. He turns our students into student leaders,” Pryne said at a Feb. 25 School Board meeting, when Campbell’s leave of absence was approved.

The process to find a replacement has begun, Campbell said, and there has been a great deal of interest from qualified officers, who must first be approved by the Navy before they can apply to the school.

A panel of school officials will select a new senior naval science instructor from among the officers.


Reporter Arwyn Rice can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5070, or at arwyn.rice@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: March 05. 2013 6:12PM
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