From Defending Freedom to Defense in College


Cameron Cassavaugh is a Concord, New Hampshire native. At 18-years-old, he joined the Marine Corps. Being a Marine was something that he always wanted to do; it was burning inside of him to become a Marine. The dream was to be a 0311-infantrymen; he didn’t want to be on the sidelines, he wanted the action, wanted to go outside the wire and not be in the rear with the gear.

Cam, as he is known around campus, became a squad automatic gunner for his first deployment to Afghanistan, stationed at Camp Leatherneck on the Camp Bastion side which was controlled by the British. Camp Leatherneck is the home base for most Marine Corps operations in Afghanistan in the Helmand Province.

He then held a squad leader position in his second deployment to Iraq stationed on Al Asad Airbase in the Anbar Province in western Iraq. Al Asad was the second largest Airbase in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

When he came home from his deployment, Cam held a platoon sergeant billet. This task of being a platoon sergeant comes with many responsibilities, including advising the commander, training, leading and mentoring Marines.

Towards the end of his enlistment, the thought of re-enlisting was on his mind, but due to a family issue, he chose to come home to support his family and start his education. Cam came home from the Marines around August 3rd or 4th and enrolled in school by August 28th. Even though Cam wanted to take a gap year between enrolling and leaving the Marines, he ultimately decided to go directly into college. He felt that if he took any time off, school was just not going to happen for him no matter how much he wanted to do it. A big part of his decision to go right into school was playing sports. He knew the school he wanted to attend and knew what field of study he would go into.

The transition was smooth for him to get into college

Cam is majoring in Conservation Biology, with a minor in Chemistry. He wants to go to graduate school and is looking at either Australia or Alaska, but is also still considering staying stateside. He wants to get into Biochemistry or Biogeochemistry and work with coral reef preservation.

At the start of school, it was difficult for him. In the Marine Corps, you knew exactly where you stood with everyone, you knew your job, duties and what your responsibilities are, and coming to NEC as a 22-year-old freshman was very jarring for him. He saw there was less discipline and he didn’t know where he stood with the other new students.

The comparison from boot camp and being a freshman is very different. The culture shock of what he went through was the difficult part, but the thought of everyone experiencing this same shock made him feel a little more at ease. His life experiences are one thing that was a factor in how he felt disconnected from the other freshman in his class, but he was easily accepted and in the end, he adapted well to life in college. He saw that some of the incoming freshman had to adapt to being on their own for the first time in their lives as well.

He took a class in his freshman year, Leadership Across Borders and Cultures, and everything they talked about was what he had already experienced with the Marines. Being able to travel around the world, Cam realized he had experienced many different cultures and that many of these 18-year-old students had never left their hometown. The other students in his class didn’t know what it was like to talk to Afghani’s and work alongside foreign military personnel.

One thing that really helped him was all the different English-speaking military personnel that he worked alongside of. It was amazing to see cultural barriers even between people who shared a language. This was a big factor in helping him realize how much he could help other students in the class with his real-world experience.

Cam was used to having his best friends in the Marines next door or right down the hall and now he did not have them.

Cam plays lacrosse at New England College as a defenseman. The lacrosse team helped him adapt, and he found a connection with his teammates. Coming from the Marines and having a tight knit brotherhood, the lacrosse team became his second family, but he still had his brothers in arms. This year he became a captain and is back to leading younger men, but this time, in a sport he loves.

A captain’s practice helped him feel truly accepted amongst his teammates. Another teammate asked him if he was really a freshman and how old he was, which opened up a conversation about his time in the military and what it was like being a Marine. All his teammates listened and welcomed him with open arms.

This was shocking to him; he had heard stories of rejection and struggles outside of the military from his buddies in the Marines that were discharged before him.

With a laugh, he added one thing that a lot of people on campus know about him: “when I was in Afghanistan I got landed on by a helicopter.”

Cam was in a couple of firefights from ambushes. He had snipers fire at him and added that it was really scary to be in the open and receive small arms fire like that. Within the seven-month deployment they had one KIA (Killed in Action), which he felt was really good considering all the contact they took. Other battalions were receiving five or six casualties in one day! Within his company, they had a platoon sergeant step on an IED and lose both his legs. In his company alone, they were hit by numerous IED’s and blew up 10-15 trucks as a result. As a driver, he was trained so well that he could spot IED’s and never ran into them, where other drivers found them with their vehicles, getting hit. While on his seven-month deployment in Afghanistan, for four or five months of it there was heavy action. Not that it happened every day, but when they would spend three or four days outside the wire, they were receiving heavy contact.

He says that most of the people on campus that know him, know he’s a “big goof ball.” From what he has been through, he suffers from PTSD and can’t sleep most nights, but he does not let that impede his performance at school. One of the things he holds high is his outstanding GPA of around 3.94. This speaks highly of veteran students he adds, stating that “veteran students are way more mature; they are more focused and have an intent, and know where they are going in life.”

Cam likes to “chill with the boys and throw back a few beers every now and again.”

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I am a senior here at NEC majoring in business administration with a concentration in marketing. I am from Henniker, NH and served six years in the U.S. Army as Tanker, 19K. I love college football, especially The Ohio State Buckeyes.
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