MMA’s high expectations for academic excellence, respect, loyalty, courage, honor and more — the Academy’s core values — help motivate and prepare cadets for successful futures, regardless of their career goals. While it’s a common misconception that military academy cadets often matriculate into the military, it’s not often the case. For those who do seek military careers, however, their MMA experience is designed to set them apart from their peers outside of the Academy.
For one recent grad, MMA laid the groundwork he sought for his dream of becoming a commissioned officer in the U.S. Marine Corps.
“I knew this school would instill the discipline in me that I was lacking,” says D’Cherion “DC” Nelson ’15 about why he chose MMA as a freshman, moving from his hometown in Memphis, Tennessee to Mexico, Missouri.
Establishing a Foundation for Success through MMA
As a Missouri Military Academy (MMA) cadet, Nelson excelled as the Academy nurtured leadership within him and challenged him to achieve. He was involved in football, wrestling, track, basketball and band. He was also a member of the 2015 Honor Council and M-Club (athletic honor society) and served as sophomore and junior class president. His cadet awards included the Best Squad Leader Award, Petit Fellowship Cup and the Duke of Edinburgh Silver Team Leader Award.
He also had the honor of leading the corps as battalion commander — the highest position of cadet leadership at MMA.
D’Cherion Nelson's official MMA senior photo.
According to Nelson, MMA offered invaluable experiences he wouldn’t have received had he not attended, such as the personal discipline of a strict schedule, the pursuit of physical excellence, and exposure to individuals with different cultures, ideals and socioeconomic backgrounds. He also said it provided him the mentorship and role models he needed to guide him to success.
“MMA laid the foundation for my career,” Nelson said. “I had a lot of father figures while I was [at MMA].”
Among his mentors was Gunnery Sergeant Mark “Gunny” Tompkins, then-deputy commandant, now director of transportation. Tompkins holds more than 20 years of experience in the U.S. Marine Corps.
Tompkins was so impressed by Nelson as a cadet that he gave him his Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant coin – a collector coin from his own service – when Nelson graduated. Tompkins said it seemed to be a fitting gift for an aspiring Marine with so much potential — and a young man he was so proud of.
“I saw that he was going to be a great leader,” Tompkins said. “I wanted him to carry my coin with him to inspire him to continue to do great things and make good decisions.”
Nelson and Tompkins at MMA's 2015 commencement.
Nelson’s uncle, Carlos Nelson, was a vigilant ally in ensuring Nelson received the most out of his MMA education, and Carlos says that MMA provided the personal and educational groundwork for his nephew’s military and collegiate success. He notes that MMA’s Chinese language courses particularly served D.C. well.
“I’m the biggest fan of MMA!” Carlos Nelson said. “MMA’s 360° Education prepared DC mentally, physically and socially to succeed.”
Full-Ride College Scholarship and Marine Training
After graduating from MMA, Nelson went on to attend Morehouse College – a famous historical black college which boasts alumni like Martin Luther King Jr., Spike Lee and more – while participating in the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps (NROTC) program, which offered him a full-ride scholarship.
Nelson displays a check for his full-ride NROTC scholarship.
There, he earned degrees in international affairs and Chinese language with a minor in naval science, all while completing intense military training with the NROTC.
“Going to school and taking classes was easy. Doing training on top of that was hard,” Nelson said. “It was mentally challenging and physically challenging. It made me stronger, though – it made me more resilient. I had to train to become better, discipline my body and push through adversity.”
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Nelson celebrated his graduation and new rank with a virtual Marine Commissioning Ceremony on May 29, 2020 in his family’s backyard. At Nelson’s request, his former MMA mentor Tompkins drove from Mexico, Missouri to Memphis, Tennessee to pin the bars on Nelson’s shoulders, bars which signify his official rank as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps.
Tompkins places the bars on Nelson's uniform. Nelson's grandmother, Loamma Smith, stands beside Nelson holding his Marine Corps hat. Nelson's cousin and current Missouri Military Academy cadet Loyal Nelson witnesses the ceremony from behind.
A closer view, Tompkins places Nelson's gold bars on his shoulders, signifying Nelson's new rank as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps.
Tompkins and Nelson salute one another at the closing of the ceremony.
Tompkins and Nelson sitting together after the commissioning ceremony.
Following his commissioning, Nelson moved to attend The Basic School (TBS) in Quantico, Virginia. Here, he will train for six months to receive his military occupational specialty (MOS).
While Nelson says he doesn’t know exactly what his future holds, he is optimistic that he can accomplish anything to which he puts his mind.
“I’m Marine Corps from head to toe. I love the branch and what we do,” Nelson said. “My final goal in the military is to work in the Pentagon with high ranking officers, working with the president.”
To current MMA cadets, Nelson advises them to follow the same advice he received – never give up. He says they should hold onto the values MMA instills in them – hard work and perseverance – and always push through the adversity they will inevitably face.
“It’s cliché, but don’t quit. Nothing in life is peaches and cream. Nothing is easy, but if you have resilience, the sky is the limit,” Nelson said. “With the right mentors, and using your tools (resources) in the right way, you can get what you need to succeed.”
Serving as a camp counselor in 2019, Nelson leads a group from MMA's Leadership Camp on a back campus trek.
Inspired by his nephew’s success, service and leadership, Carlos Nelson has since created, in DC’s honor, a nonprofit program called “Stand and Serve.” The program works to help educate high school students in the United States about how ROTC military scholarships can pay their college tuition and boarding.