Find Your Passion: Oorah! A Marine and a President

Cullen Millsap Millsap stands outside his fraternity house. (Photo by Samantha Hernandez)

By Chloe LeBaron

Cullen Millsap had all the qualities of a student leader before ever enrolling in his first class on The University of Alabama campus.

Millsap, a Mobile native, returned to UA after serving two tours of duty in Iraq as a Marine. The 24-year-old joined the Marines after high school graduation.

Now, the UA senior is president of Phi Delta Theta fraternity, sharing his leadership skills for the benefit of others.

“The good thing that comes out of serving … is that it gives you a different outlook on things. Had I not gone to the war, I would have been that guy who sits in the back of class and doesn’t achieve much. But, now I do my best and try my hardest,” Millsap says.

Cullen Millsap
Millsap, left, and fellow Marine Jimmy Parker in Iraq.

His fraternity brothers say Millsap has earned respect across campus.

“Most of the presidents of fraternities know who Cullen is and know what he has done,” says Scott Hines, a member of Millsap’s fraternity. “Everyone respects him and looks up to him. That’s the cool thing about Cullen – he’s such a good president to have because you know he has experienced so much and knows what he is talking about.”

Millsap served his first tour from June 2004-May 2005.

“I was 18, fresh out of high school, and still naive,” Millsap says. “I didn’t know anything about anything. When I got back I had a deeper understanding of life and the war and could explain it better.”

Upon returning, he enrolled at UA as a restaurant and hospitality major and pledged Phi Delta Theta fraternity.

“The transition was a little more stressful than I initially expected. I went from waking up at all hours, constantly being on the go and never really knowing where you will be the next day, to the only responsibility I had was to wake up in time for class and do my homework,” he recalls.

At that same time, Millsap was requesting a return to Iraq for a second tour. Millsap, a product of a military family, says there wasn’t even a moment of hesitation about what he should do when he learned friends from his first tour were being redeployed. The choice, he says, was clear. He was going with them.

Cullen Millsap
Following graduation, Millsap, who has already completed two tours of duty in Iraq, hopes to become a military officer. (Samantha Hernandez)

Millsap was redeployed in June 2006. “The second tour was easier than the first, emotionally,” he says. He credits this to maturation. He says there was also considerably less combat fighting and fewer casualties in his unit. During his second tour, he worked mostly in the reconnaissance operating center.

During his first tour, one of Millsap’s friends and fellow Marines, Philip Schermer, drove over a land mine in a military truck. The explosion shattered his foot. He was sent back to the United States to recover. At his tour’s conclusion, Millsap was reunited with his injured friend. The two made a pact. They would both become presidents of their fraternity and graduate from college.

Now both seniors, they are, indeed, both presidents of their fraternities – Millsap at The University of Alabama and Schermer at Auburn University. They both happened to pledge Phi Delta Theta and now share graduation as a goal.

While Millsap is slightly older than the rest of his UA classmates, he’s had, he says, “tremendous life experiences.” They have affected who he is and what he can contribute.

“The military has always been a part of my life,” Millsap says. “After graduation, I hope to be accepted into Officer Candidate School and become a military officer with more responsibility.”

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Chloe LeBaron is a recent graduate of The University of Alabama College of Communication and Information Sciences. She was a student intern in the UA Office of Media Relations during the spring 2009 semester.

This story is part of the Find Your Passion feature section of the UA home page. For more stories, please visit Find Your Passion or Crimson Spotlight. To learn more about how you can find your passion at The University of Alabama, please visit UA Undergraduate Admissions.