In 2001, Michael Broussard was a skinny kid who scrambled for playing time on the football team, went to the wrong parties and barely passed enough classes to graduate from Liberty High School.
That Michael Broussard, however, might have a tough time recognizing the man who returned to the campus this week. Clad in the forest green dress uniform of the Army Rangers, Staff Sgt. Broussard stood before students as a veteran of two deployments to Iraq, two more to Afghanistan, and the newly crowned winner of the Army's Best Ranger Competition.
The competition, which wound up on April 21, pitted 29 two-man teams against each other in events designed to test toughness, combat skill, competence and commitment. Broussard's partner was Staff Sgt. Shayne Cherry of Tennessee. The grueling three-day event provided no scheduled rest for the Rangers, and required them to don combat fatigues and 60 pounds of gear, climb a 60-foot-high rope net and crawl through a watery pit along a 3.8-mile obstacle course in near-freezing temperatures.
They also parachuted out of a Black Hawk helicopter to hit a target on the ground, competed in various marksmanship and casualty evacuation events, and made the dreaded foot march, a nighttime trek of unknown distance that lasts until the early morning and has been known to eliminate many from the competition.
And that's just the first day.
The competition is recognized as a world-class event, Sgt. Jonathon Adams told the students as he introduced Broussard. This man is one of the most elite soldiers in the U.S. military.
The soft-spoken Broussard, 25, talked briefly about his life at Liberty and the profound changes he underwent after joining the Army. He described the rigorous training all Rangers go through, a regimen designed to get you to quit, he said. It's Darwinian theory at its finest, he said, adding, If you're not performing up to par, we don't need you. Less than 30 percent of the people who try to become Rangers actually make it.
Students then peppered Broussard with questions, one of the first of which was Who was the teacher who helped you the most while you were here?
His unhesitating response, Mrs. (Rhonda) Snover, was roundly cheered, and a messenger was sent to fetch the still-active Snover from her classroom for a tear-and-smile-filled reunion.
In answer to other questions, Broussard told students not to worry about popularity because all that disappears the second you graduate. He said he thinks it's harder on a soldier's family such as his wife, Jessica than on soldiers when they're away, and that training (which one person had referred to as brainwashing ) was in reality just the active adoption of a chosen lifestyle. You learn what being a man is all about, you get to see different leadership styles, and pick what you want.
Between classes, as he walked to the PE coach's room for a break, Broussard said he thinks his life at Liberty, including trying to get playing time as a 6-foot, 1-inch, 140-pound beanpole, helped him develop the tenacity that has served him so well as a Ranger. He also credited Snover with helping him get through school.
She pulled me aside and told me, You need to wake up,' he recalled.
Snover said she rememberd Broussard as a deep thinker and said she still has an essay he wrote. I'm incredibly proud of him, but I'm not surprised, she said.
Broussard was scheduled to visit other area schools and take some time off before returning to his base at Ft. Benning, Ga. Between tours overseas, the former high-schooler-in-need-of-a-wake-up-call is about 18 months from attaining a master's degree, which he will apply in his career as a physician's assistant.
Broussard will attend the Brentwood City Council meeting next Tuesday to be honored by the city, and other official commendations are in the works.