WIU English major ‘Transforms’ for summer blockbuster

Typically, when Alan Cale is in uniform, he’s serving his country as a Military Police officer. This past summer, however, his Army gear served as more of a costume, as Cale and several other “extras” appeared on the silver screen in Transformers 3: Dark of the Moon, which debuted in theaters in June.

photo of WIU student and soldier Alan Cale

WIU student and soldier Alan Cale on his security mission in Afghanistan

photo of Alan Cale with movie extras

Cale, in the front row, poses with star Josh Duhamel and fellow extras on the set

So, how did he get this gig?

“One of my buddies in my unit from Chicago (and who is with me on this deployment) was the one who hooked me up with the opportunity,” he explained. “He has a friend who works as a liaison between Hollywood and the military, and she asked him to find a couple of volunteers with military gear who could come to Chicago in order to be military extras in the film. He called me and asked me if I wanted to be in ‘Transformers 3.’ I of course said yes without any hesitation.”

What were his duties as a big-time movie star?

“My only responsibilities for the film were to wear my uniform and gear, carry a gun, and look like a soldier. Fortunately that was something I have some experience in,” he said. “The Afghans don’t have the same regulations on pirating movies that we do in the States, so I have been able to see the movie. There are about 3-5 seconds towards the end of the movie where [actor] Tyrese Gibson runs around the corner of the Chicago Tribune building to link up with the military in the city. I am the second one standing as he runs by.”

Still, even though his role was a small one,

“The experience was one of a kind,” he said. “It’s one thing to see the finished product up on the big screen, and completely different to be behind the scenes seeing it in the making.

It was interesting to spend time with the stars of the film,” he continued. “I spent several hours just sitting on the set while they set up for the next shot chatting with Josh Duhamel. It was pretty cool to get to know them, and I came to the realization that they are regular people like the rest of us just with a really cool job.”

When he’s back in his role as a WIU student, Cale is a proud Peach Blossom, a.k.a. member of the WIU Veterans Club.

photo of WIU Veterans Club members dressed as "Peach Blossoms"

“Any current student or alumni can come check out one of our meetings,” he said. For more information, contact Derrick Bernabei, club president, or visit WIU Vets Club on Facebook.

Western grad opens heart, home to Haitian children

WIU graduate Patrick Leyendeckers and his wife, Mervi, were inspired to consider international adoption for a number of reasons. One of those factors can at least partially be credited to Patrick’s time at Western.

“One of the things the instructors always instilled in us was to try to look at things from a global perspective, and … it’s always in the back of my mind,” said Leyendeckers, who graduated from WIU from 1998 with a degree in accounting. “[Another factor was] my wife and I came to the conclusion, before we started this process, that we can’t change the world, but, we can change the world for two or three kids. That’s kind of what got us to where we are.”

picture of Leyendeckers family

Patrick, far right, with Kenlley, Mervi, Dieunika, and Modeline at Dieunika's 13th-birthday celebration

Patrick came to WIU as a non-traditional student. After graduating from high school, he joined the Navy, an experience that ultimately led to the Leyendeckers’ marriage.

“After three years active duty, I bought one of those two-month rail passes around Europe, and that’s when I met Mervi. She’s from Finland,” he explained.

Patrick earned a degree in industrial technology from Buffalo State College in New York. After he and Mervi relocated to Quincy (IL), their son, Derrick, was born. Patrick enrolled at WIU soon after, taking classes part-time so he could help with raising his son on the days when he didn’t have classes. His degree in accounting led to work as an auditor for the IL Agriculture Auditing Association. Today, Patrick works for a trucking company, a career switch he made in part to have more flexible hours to accommodate his new family life.

“We had always talked about adoption,” he explained. “My wife [went to Haiti in 2006], and it was  life-changing for her. There were literally orphans all over the place. And keep in mind that was long before the earthquake.”

picture of Leyendeckers family

To find out more of Patrick Leyendeckers’ story—including how their family was impacted by the devastating earthquake— look for a feature in the upcoming issue of Western News, the quarterly newsletter for alumni and friends. The June issue will arrive in mailboxes soon, and will also be posted online here.

Counseling soldiers’ families during trying times

WIU academic adviser returns from military deployment

by Jared Dye, University Relations student writer

picture of Ronald Pettigrew

WIU academic adviser and military chaplain Ronald Pettigrew

Ronald Pettigrew has been involved in the military all his life, has been to more than 35 countries through his services, but he was recently deployed for the first time as a Western Illinois University employee. He is now back at work in Macomb after being assigned to the headquarters of the Marine Corps, located near Washington, D.C., for two months.

Because his father was in the Navy, he said, Pettigrew has been part of the military all his life. His military service began when he joined the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps at the University of Southern California, immediately following high school. Following his graduation from college, he was commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Navy, and has had consistent military presence ever since, with 11 years active duty and 11 years as a drilling reservist.

A large portion of his military service has involved duty at sea or overseas. He has served eight years of sea duty for the Navy and five years on deployed assignments overseas. Prior to his most recent deployment as a WIU employee, he was deployed overseas for a year as a WIU graduate student.

Pettigrew is currently based out of the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in Parris Island, (S.C.). He serves as Navy Chaplain and Commanding Officer of a Marine Expeditionary Religious Unit that provides direct support to military recruits and recruiters within the Eastern Recruiting Region.

During his most recent deployment, working on behalf of the Chaplain of the Marine Corps, he was assigned to provide pastoral counseling and assistance to individuals and families working through grief.

His responsibilities during his recent assignment were directly related to his specialty, working with people and providing assistance and grief counseling. He was assigned to the headquarters of the Marine Corps, located near Washington, D.C., part of the Naval Annex to the Pentagon, for two months. Working as the Chaplain of the Marine Corps, he was assigned to provide pastoral counseling and assistance to individuals and families working through grief.

“During my time away, I was responsible for providing support for all U.S. military casualties killed in action overseas. As part of the Navy/Marine Corps Casualty Liaison Team located within Dover Mortuary Affairs Office at Dover Air Force Base, I provided grief and support counseling for over 180 family members, and escorts for 18 casualties,” Pettigrew said.

In his civilian life, Pettigrew is an academic adviser for Western’s Board of Trustees Bachelor of Arts (BOT/BA) degree program. The BOT/BA program is a degree program geared towards non-traditional students, including veterans and full-time workers, giving them the opportunity to earn an undergraduate degree that compliments their educational needs and lifestyles. The general education program  allows students to take classes of interest while completing their degree.

Pettigrew received his own undergraduate degree from the University of Southern California. After five years of active duty service as Surface Welfare Officer, he resigned his commission as a line officer to begin his studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School to become a Naval Chaplain. After serving as a pastor in the Quad Cities for four years and working as a Reserve chaplain, he returned to active duty and became a Navy chaplain before returning to the reserves to complete his studies and earn his Masters of Science in College Student Personnel at WIU.

While Pettigrew was deployed, other advisers in the department helped by taking over his work load. They also kept in contact through e-mail and phone calls. The staff also checked on Pettigrew and his family and maintained their well-established relationship. WIU has been recognized in the past for supporting employees in the military, including receiving “Patriotic Employer” certificates and being recognized by the U.S. Army Recruiting Battalion in St. Louis in coordinating work relief for Army Reserves Spc. Wayne Quesenberry, an admissions and records specialist at Western.

Pettigrew said that the most difficult part of coming back is trying to find time to slow down, after being involved with military work which involves constant tasks and thinking about what needs to be done. Outside of work, he is trying to get off of the military schedule and find time to relax and spend with his family. His oldest son, Josh Jefferson, graduated from WIU this May, with plans of possibly going into the military as well.

“Although I came back right into the busy registering period, all has gone well, and the student and staff support has been amazing,” Pettigrew said. “Without their support I know I would not have been able to make it, and make the transition back and continue my military service. The University is very supportive and military friendly.”