Only 54 students from the state of Washington have attended the prestigious military college in the institute’s long history
The drive to serve started when she was around 10 years old.
“I’ve always had great pride for the military, for being an American,” said Cameron Jones, a senior soccer standout at Ridgefield High School. “Veterans Day assembly was my favorite assembly. My favorite part of every game was the national anthem.”
She knew the path she wanted to take by middle school, when she started researching the military academies.
“I can do everything I want. I can be a leader and serve my country,” Jones said. “That seemed like a perfect career for me.”
The motivation never wavered.
All that was left for Jones was to find the right place for her. Or for that place to find her.
Jones announced recently that she will be attending Virginia Military Institute, where she will play soccer for the Keydets.
One of the most prestigious institutions in the country, VMI is not a typical destination for Northwest students and athletes. In fact, according to VMI officials, only 54 cadets have attended VMI in its history, which dates back to long before Washington became a state. Jones would become the 55th.
“What is VMI?” Jones remembered asking herself when she was first contacted by the school’s soccer coach. “No one talks about it on the West Coast.”
It turns out, her commitment to serve, her athletic ability, and a difficult injury all led Jones to Lexington, Va., where she will become a rat.
Yes, a rat.
More on that later.
Jones was playing for her club team in Florida in June when VMI soccer coach Chris Haught-Thompson showed up and asked if there were any athletes interested in attending a military college. Someone told the coach about Jones, so he kept his eye on her on the field.
The two talked about what VMI had to offer. Jones looked into it, but she also was hoping that West Point or the Naval Academy would be an option.
Later in the summer, Jones tore her ACL in a knee.
“It was for the right purpose,” Jones says now.
Jones might not have passed her physical for the military academies. But Haught-Thompson assured Jones that VMI would welcome her.
“The coach was very forthcoming. ‘At this institute, we’re all about overcoming adversity,’” Jones recalled. “I went on to visit VMI and I fell in love. I learned all about it. I stayed in the barracks. I got to see the Rat Line.”
Oh yes, the Rat Line.
That is the painted yellow line that runs through campus that rats must march on at all times to get to and from classes, back into the barracks. Because for the first six months or so, freshmen at VMI are not freshmen. They are rats.
“You learn how to be a cadet at the institute and all of their rules. Before you’re a fourth classmen, which is a freshman, you are referred to as a rat,” Jones said. “You are degraded. You are nothing. They tear you down to build you back up. You refer to yourself as ‘This rat.’ You don’t even say ‘I.’”
Jones will not have access to her phone. She can’t call a friend anytime she wants. She won’t be following social media. Which means she will not be able to talk to twin sister Claire, also a Division-I soccer player who expects to sign with Oregon State.
There is no set date when the rat process ends, but it is usually in February.
“That’s when you become a fourth classmen and part of the corps of cadets,” said Jones, adding she will be ready for the challenge.
“For me, it’s a very unique process. There is no other institute, college, university, academy in the nation that you’re going to go through a rat line. It’s a humbling experience,” Jones said. “I think it’s exciting. From what I hear from the girls (on the soccer team), you don’t take anything personal.”
Advance beyond being a rat, and a cadet is on the way to success.
Unlike the military academies, graduates are not required to serve in the military. They must take ROTC for all four years at VMI and they have the option of being commissioned as officers upon graduation, but it is not required.
For Jones, though, the plan is to serve.
“I have chosen,” she said, noting that her soccer career will end when she graduates from college. “I’ll pursue my other dream, which is serving in the United States military.”
She will also have to decide where to serve.
“At VMI, you can be in the Army, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the Coast Guard, the Air Force, and Space Force. All six branches,” Jones said. “You have all these opportunities.”
She expects to major in international studies.
Cameron Jones is passionate about her long-term future, is confident she can handle the challenges at VMI, but she is also heartbroken over missing her final season with Ridgefield soccer, her final season with her sister.
“Soccer is everything,” Cameron said, noting that she and Claire have been playing since they were 2 years old. “It always brought us together.”
Cameron is not sure she will be back from her injury in time for another club season before she and Claire head their separate ways for college soccer.
“The hardest thing for me is just the idea of not being able to play with her again,” Cameron said. “I love watching her play. She’s incredible.”
Claire, normally a forward attacker, is now Ridgefield’s center-back, which was Cameron’s position.
“It’s been very difficult. Not only is Cameron our key center-back, she is also a leader,” Claire said. “I’m the center-back, in her position, and I’m also carrying that vocal voice she brought on. It’s hard, but I’m getting to learn a lot from her. She’s kind of my mentor in this new position. It’s really heartbreaking, but I’m trying to look at the positives.”
Claire Jones, interestingly enough, followed the family history into college. The Jones’ come from a family of farmers. Claire was looking at an agricultural program.
At first, she thought she would get out of the Northwest.
“Recruitment has its own journey,” Claire said. “The (OSU) coaches drew me in. I felt really connected with them. They obviously have a really good agriculture program, so it was like all the stars were aligning. It’s close to home but far enough I can branch out on my own.”
Still, it will be difficult for the sisters to be on their own, literally thousands of miles apart, and seemingly 100 years apart with the traditions, history, and discipline expected at VMI.
Claire jokes that she doesn’t want to think about the separation. After all, the sisters do not believe they have ever been away from each other for more than a few days at a time. But in all seriousness, Claire understands.
“It wasn’t as hard for me because I knew she was happy. I know she is doing what she wants to do. It fits her perfectly,” Claire said. “I think what she is doing is so amazing, so honorable. I can’t let my own sadness take over. I’m just going to let the happiness outweigh the sadness.”
For Cameron, her destination brings all of her dreams together in one special place.
At Virginia Military Institute, Cameron Jones will have her studies, her sport, and her path to her future of service.
“I wanted to do something that was bigger than myself,” she said.
- Young Life to host informational meetings this week in Battle GroundYoung Life, which has the goal of building authentic friendships with teens and introducing them to Jesus, is looking to open a club in the Battle Ground area and will be holding meetings this week.
- RHS Knowledge Bowl team wins second consecutive state championshipThe Ridgefield High School Knowledge Bowl team placed first at the state competition in Wenatchee last week.
- First grade has a lot going on in Journey Theater’s ‘Junie B. Jones the Musical’Journey Theater is proud to present six performances of Junie B. Jones the Musical, with the first show Friday at Washougal High School.
- BG students with the Chief Umtuch DREAM Team meet with state legislators to discuss topics Impacting Washington youthOn March 6, students from the Chief Umtuch DREAM Team visited the Washington State Capitol in Olympia to meet with legislators to discuss important topics impacting students across Washington state.
- Battle Ground students raise funds for teen with heart conditionNine seniors from Battle Ground High School will take the stage later this month to display their talents and compete for the title of Best of BG. They’ll also be raising money for a great cause: supporting a local teen with hypoplastic left heart syndrome.
Thank you for your commitment and dedication Cameron. I wish you the best.
Rah VA Mil! I’ve been where you are it won’t be an easy road but it will be well worth it and full of challenge and adventure. I would not trade my experiences there for the world, it made me the man I am today.
best of luck,
VMI Class Of 2020
Prairie High School 2016