A standing-room-only crowd of about 300 people, many of them under 18, heard U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Brandon Cordill express why he never let obstacles curtail his career dream.
Cordill, a Hemet, California, native, stood before them June 13 in the MTSU Business and Aerospace Building’s State Farm Lecture Hall as a pilot with the U.S. Navy Blue Angels flight demonstration team. The Blue Angels will fly in the annual Great Tennessee Air Show June 14-15 in Smyrna, Tennessee, with MTSU serving as one of the sponsors.
Cordill said he had to overcome making only “decent” grades in high school and an 850 on his SAT — when 1600 was the top score in 1998).
A hockey player, he realized he was too small and lacked the talent to reach the NHL. He was “crushed” by not passing a U.S. Air Force test and learned through a Navy eye exam that he lacked depth perception.
Cordill discovered Saint Louis University, whose aerospace engineering program did not require an SAT. While sitting in the commercial pilot ground school class on Sept. 11, 2001, he and the other students were mesmerized by the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center’s twin towers in New York City.
“Watching that, I became committed. I wanted to serve my country,” Cordell said, drawing a large round of applause from the audience.
Cordill’s 9/11 classroom faculty member that day was Wendy Beckman, now a professor in MTSU’s nationally recognized aerospace program and director of the Aviation Summer Camps and a partnership with The Academies of Nashville at McGavock High School.
“He remembered me, and that was pretty amazing,” Beckman said of their unexpected reunion Friday morning. “He’s done great. I’m very proud of him.”
At least two audience members, and probably more, want to follow in Cordill’s footsteps.
MTSU junior aerospace professional pilot Nick Morrison of Gainesville, Georgia, wants to be a Marine pilot. Capt. Nathan Skopak of the Marine recruiting command in Nashville said Morrison will be a future Marine when he enters as a second lieutenant at the completion of the Marine officer program in Murfreesboro.
Morrison said the Blue Angels visit was “pretty cool. I’m glad they came out. I’m looking forward to seeing the show Saturday.”
Murfreesboro’s Daniel Fallon, 14, who will be a Blackman High School freshman this fall, wore a Blue Angels T-shirt he bought when he and his family vacationed in Florida and saw them practice.
Fallon, who wants to be a pilot, is attending this week’s Introduction to Aviation Camp.
“I thought it was amazing,” Fallon said of the appearance. “I’m happy for him serving.”
First-year MT Sampler Camp participants also attended, including Jannah Ragab, 10, a sixth-grade student at Nashville International Academy, who had her photo taken with Cordill.
“I’m sure it will encourage people to one day be in the Air Force,” Ragab said, adding that she learned from the presentation “how planes fly close together.”
Cordill told the audience that the precision flight demonstration team flies their aircraft a mere 12 to 18 inches apart at times.
“It’s a matter of trust,” he said. “There’s no instruments or autopilot. Nobody’s going to move the (command) stick. They will hold their position until the end.”
Curtis Matthews, an aviation survival equipment man first class with the U.S. Navy, also spoke to the gathering in the State Farm Room.
University President Sidney A. McPhee attended, joined by Col. Bill Lane of Gray, Tennessee, who is Tennessee Wing Commander with the Civil Air Patrol.
In addition to aerospace students and faculty, the audience included other MTSU faculty and staff, guests and about 20 members of the Civil Air Patrol Smyrna Composite Squadron, led by squadron commander Jeff Wreyford. Cordill presented the Smyrna group with a CAP Squadron of Distinction 2014 certificate and banner.
— Randy Weiler (Randy.Weiler@mtsu.edu)