Rowan student plans graduation so Iraqi vet father can attend ceremony

Forget the cap and gown, the diploma and the classmates cheering. Forget the crowds, the speeches and the pats on the back. Forget the party even.
Forget the cap and gown, the diploma and the classmates cheering. Forget the crowds, the speeches and the pats on the back. Forget the party even.

There’s one thing above all else Charles “Chuck” Grinnell, 24, of Howell, Monmouth County, wanted for his graduation from Rowan University (Friday, May 15, at 10 a.m.). That was his father to attend.

Army Reserve Lieutenant Col. Charles Grinnell, 53, a lawyer in the Judge Advocate General Corps, was deployed to Iraq in 2003. While he’s been back in New Jersey since mid 2005, his son made sure Grinnell Senior could be at his oldest boy’s commencement by scheduling his classes so he would graduate when he was confident his dad would be in the States. Just when he thought he had it figured out, his father was again deployed to Iraq in January 2007 for yet another year-long tour of duty investigating and prosecuting terrorists, insurgents and members of Al Qaida in the Central Criminal Court of Iraq.

The younger Grinnell, a political science and law/justice major, attended school part time at one point in order to push graduation to this year. “When my father got back there was about a nine-month period where they do debriefing. The Army has certain things you do when you first come back to reintegrate you,” the Rowan student said. “At the end of that time, my parents decided to divorce. Since then he’s remarried, again returned from Iraq and now that everything with the whole family is going in a positive direction, it’s time to graduate.”

The younger Grinnell, who was vice president of the student Republican Club and a member of the campus Advising Committee, said that while his father was in the war zone he was “naturally worried.’ He said, “I’m the first-born son. But Dad’s outlook on being in a war zone is ‘It’s fate. There’s a certain aspect of destiny that’s involved.’” And the son agrees.

Said his, father, an Ocean Township resident who in civilian life is a deputy attorney general for the State of New Jersey, “It’s great to be home and be able to watch my son (graduate). It’s the realization of a dream that kept me going when both the action and the temperature got hot. I was always afraid that I would miss this important millstone in his life. I thank God that he had a great support system at home and at Rowan while I was gone.”

Chuck Grinnell will have other people at commencement, of course, including his mother, Marsha, of Howell, an important support for him during his Rowan years, as were his younger brother and sister.

He also expects to celebrate the day with the football coaching staff at Rowan, a kind of second family to the young man, who has been interning for two years as an offensive assistant coach. Before that, he worked in various positions with the team, which he is quick to point out has earned four conference championships and made four appearances in NCAA playoffs, among other achievements.

“I have been helping coach in a number of facets since 2004,” said Grinnell, who was backup quarterback for the Profs in 2003, quarterback at Howell High School and a member of the All-Shore Academic squad his senior year of high school. Those posts included position coach for the tight ends, video coordinator, head JV coach and quality control staff.

“For the coaching staff, the support I have received from them was above and beyond the call of duty,” Grinnell said. “Had it not been for the coaches, my mom’s support when my dad was gone and (friends) and certainly people on this campus, I wouldn’t even be graduating.”

As for the future, Chuck isn’t sure what he wants to do, though he is weighing several paths. Originally, he planned to become a lawyer. Now he’s deciding between a career in coaching or law enforcement. Law, he said, is not off the plate, “but football has become, in terms of the last three to four years, what I think about all day every day.”