Former College Athlete Trades Football Helmet for Army Combat Helmet

By Brent Powell

Joining the Army is something few people in the world will ever do. Even fewer will have the opportunity to play football for a top-ranked Southeastern Conference college team. But one service member has done both and his list of life achievements are far from over.

Army Spc. Javiere Mitchell, a chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) specialist and former outside linebacker for the Auburn University football team, is proving that his talents and drive are invaluable – no matter if he is wearing a football jersey or an army combat uniform.

A Winning Streak to College

Mitchell’s journey to Auburn started during his early years in high school where his passion for track and field netted him the Alabama State Class 3A long jump title, and third place in the state in the 100-meter dash. It wasn’t long before he took his athletic talents to the football field.

“My junior year of high school is where everything kind of came together,” he said. “The football coach saw me in the gym one day and asked me if I had ever played football before and I was like, ‘I haven’t,” and the next day there I was out on the field playing.”

Mitchell played quarterback and tight end on offense and nose guard on defense.

Army Reserve Spc. Javiere Mitchell. | Photo credit Brent C. Powell

“I liked playing quarterback, but I really enjoyed playing tight end. I don’t know what it was just being there on the line and being able to get passes and being that extra hand when it was needed was something I really liked.”

His passion for the game helped Mitchell propel his team to a 15-0 winning streak during his junior year and 11-3 in his senior year. Despite his enjoyment of the game, he never planned on pursuing football after high school.

“Initially, I never planned on going to college,” Mitchell said. “My plan was to be an airborne ranger.”

But Mitchell’s unplanned route to college came in his senior year when several Division 1 colleges started trying to recruit him, and ultimately, he accepted a scholarship to Auburn. During his three years of playing football for Auburn, Mitchell racked up 39 career tackles. He was ranked 12th in Alabama and 82nd nationally as an outside linebacker.

When Mitchell graduated in 2015 and hung up his jersey for good, his coach, Gus Malzahn, said, “He did a great job for us the last three years.”

Answering His Call to Serve

After graduation, Mitchell went on to start a civilian career as a personal trainer and fitness coach putting his degree in kinesiology to use.

“The job was great, but there wasn’t a lot of money in it, and there was a lot of long hours involved,” he said. “The thought of joining the Army was still in the back of my head, and I just decided I have to do this now, or I’m never going to do it.”

When a 26-year-old Mitchell sat down with his recruiter to decide on a career with the Army, he picked an unusual way to make his selection.

Photo credit Brent C. Powell

Army Reserve Spc. Javiere Mitchell prepares thread to sew up some gear.

“I picked CBRN because it had the coolest name,” he said with a laugh. “I was looking through pamphlets on job assignments, and when I saw CBRN, I thought that sounded pretty cool.”

In 2019, Mitchell completed Army basic training and his nine-week CBRN school at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.

Mitchell recently volunteered to transfer from his assigned unit to the 318th Chemical Company to help fill a personnel shortage for the company’s upcoming deployment.

“I think this will be a great opportunity for me to establish a greater and better understanding of how the overall Army works,” he said. “I think it will give me some valuable real-world experience as a soldier that will help me in my future Army career.”

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this is Mitchell’s first time being on a field exercise since joining the Army Reserve. Mitchell and his unit are currently conducting a wide variety of CBRN training, as part of Operation Desert Dragon, a two-week exercise designed to test the unit’s specialized capabilities in a variety of scenarios as they prepare for an upcoming deployment.

“The training has been going good so far, and I’m learning a lot,” he said. “I’ve gotten to work closely with my platoon on various missions and I’m getting to see everything come together. It has also given me an opportunity to learn everyone’s personalities.”

Army Reserve Spc. Javiere Mitchell listens to his fellow soldiers discuss an upcoming mission at Fort McCoy. | Photo credit Brent C. Powell

Although there are obviously many differences, Mitchell said that football and the military do share a lot of similarities.

“They kind of go hand in hand,” he said. “You are going to have your different personalities, but you learn the importance of timelines, how to delegate tasks and figure out exactly what needs to be done and who needs to do it. In both professions you how to have thick skin and just take things with a grain of salt to get the job done, whatever that job is.

Mitchell’s Army teammates are already taking note of his hard-work and willingness to learn and accomplish the mission.

“He is a real good guy,” Army Spc. Caleb Hawkins said.

Hawkins has worked closely with Mitchell for the past several weeks.

“He will do anything for anybody. His willingness to learn and help the team out is first and foremost; he jumps right in headfirst to help.

Staff Sgt. Thomas Emery, a dismounted reconnaissance platoon sergeant also thinks highly of Mitchell’s performance and his potential.

“Mitchell has only been in the Army Reserve for a short time, but he acts like a future noncommissioned officer,” Emery said. “He has a lot of learning to do, but we are lucky to have him. He is a beast.”

With the exercise drawing to a close, Mitchell is already looking to the future, and making the Army into a full-time career.

“I really want a career that I can look back on some day and be proud of. A career that I can say, ‘yeah that was awesome’, and just really have fun in the process,” he said. “My ultimate goal is to attend Officer Candidate School and transfer into the regular Army, so I do this full-time as an officer.”

-This article was originally published on Army.mil. It has been edited for USO.org.

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