Lieutenant Colonel Randy McClendon graduated and commissioned from UH Army ROTC in 2002. Today he is commanding the Base Support Battalion and Camp Buehring under Area Support Group in Kuwait.
Below is an article from 2002 about obstacles he overcame.
Former gang member becomes top ROTC cadet
From jail to successEx-gang member top ROTC cadet
Carol Christian, Chron.com / Houston Chronicle
May 11, 2002
Randy Lee McClendon Jr., a former gang member with the scars to prove it, is one of the rare success stories to come out of Harris County’s criminal courts.
A high school dropout who repeated 10th grade four times and spent many weekends in jail, McClendon graduates today with a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Houston and the top rank among ROTC cadets in three states.
Just hours later, he will be commissioned as an Army second lieutenant and will report Sunday to Fort Benning, Ga., for six months of training.
From there, he will move with his wife and two sons to a permanent duty post with the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, N.C.
“He has surmounted so many obstacles and has come up with his own formula for survival,” said state District Judge Denise Collins, who met McClendon through her work to promote funding of the county’s adult boot camp.
McClendon, 25, spent three months at the camp in 1996 after being sentenced to 10 years’ probation on a first-degree-felony drug charge.
“He took the tools he learned at the boot camp and his religion and developed a lifestyle for himself where he’s busy 150 percent of the time,” Collins said. “He keeps his body in shape. He has a family. He is a remarkable person.”
State District Judge Jan Krocker, who sent McClendon to boot camp, also praised him highly.
“It’s unusual when judges are inspired by people who come before the court,” she said. “There are so many sad stories here.”
Krocker terminated McClendon’s probation in November 2000, after seven uniformed ROTC officers from UH appeared in her court on his behalf.
Both judges plan to attend today’s commissioning ceremony for McClendon, who graduates as the top ROTC cadet among several hundred in Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico, said Maj. Kerry Reyna, assistant professor of military science at UH.
The ranking is a composite score of grade point average and ROTC performance. Among 3,500 new lieutenants from 270 U.S. universities, Reyna said, McClendon is in the top 20 percent.
Not long ago, his life held little promise.
Throughout his teen years, he belonged to small street gangs — one in St. Louis and another in northwest Houston after he moved here at 15. Skirmishes with rival gangs and arrests were common.
“I was just being really wild and rebellious, acting like a complete idiot,” McClendon recalled.
In one gang encounter at 17, he said, a 7-inch knife went through his left lung and cut the edge of his heart. That ended his cigarette smoking, he said.
A year later, he nearly lost a leg below the knee when a shotgun blew a hole through his calf muscle.
“When I went to the hospital,” McClendon recalled, “the first thing the doctor said to my mom was, `We do wonderful things with a prosthesis.’ ” His recovery, he said, was one of various miracles in his life.
“The grace I’ve been given — it’s amazing,” he said. “I don’t know why.”
The turning point in his life, McClendon said, came six years ago, as he sat in jail after being arrested for possession of cocaine with intent to deliver.
He learned that his girlfriend, Irene, who became his wife within two months, was pregnant with their first child. Their sons are now 5 and 3.
“Right there was the point at which I began to realize that things I did had effects on other people,” he said. “The first thing I thought of was, `I can’t be living this type of lifestyle if I’m going to have kids.’ ”
While in jail, he heard something on a Christian radio station that reminded him of his grandfather’s hope that he would lead a life of faith.
“I got down on my knees and prayed to God and asked him to change me,” McClendon said.
Change wasn’t instant. “I didn’t get a get-out-of-jail-free card,” he said.
But he did get the offer of boot camp followed by 10 years’ deferred adjudication, meaning that if he stayed out of trouble, his conviction would be struck from his record.
Because of his street-fighting injuries, he barely passed the physical examination to enter boot camp, but given medical clearance, he jumped at the chance to succeed.
“For once, I wanted to do something right,” he said. “I wanted to make it through boot camp with zero infractions and I wanted to graduate as a squad leader. I did both.”
Boot camp’s physical rigor camp was daunting.
“I had never run a mile,” said McClendon, who within three months was running 20 miles in the sun and now competes in marathons.
Of the 48 young men in McClendon’s boot camp platoon, only 32 finished. “Sixteen guys decided they would rather go to prison,” he said.
His decision to “do something right” propelled him through boot camp, four years of college and ROTC.
He plans an Army career and would like to teach college some day.
Capt. Frank Stanley, who has supervised McClendon in the Army Reserves, previously investigated his criminal activities when Stanley was involved with a federal drug task force.
Stanley later hired McClendon to work at a nonprofit organization, Reach Across Houston, where the probationer designed programs to help other boot camp graduates stay out of trouble.
The skills McClendon has honed in the past six years have made him a model Army officer, Stanley said. As a second lieutenant, McClendon will lead a platoon of about 30 soldiers.
“I expect good things coming out of Randy’s unit and the individuals he’s going to lead,” Stanley said. “I would be happy to have him lead any soldiers under my command.”
Written By Carol Christian