Jordan Rouff wore an oversized camouflage poncho and a Kevlar helmet that hung loosely on his head. The 32-year old East Meadow native recalled finding his uncle’s military gear in a trunk in his attic when he was a child.
“I remember, in that moment, wanting to be a Marine, but I didn’t express it to people,” he said. “My story, I guess, is an odd one.”
Rouff’s story includes his four-year career with the Marine Corps beginning at age 18, his yearlong battle with cancer immediately afterward and his commitment to well-being when he became a phys. ed. teacher in the East Meadow School District in 2014.
He kept his desire to serve his country to himself for most of his adolescence. Rouff was 15 and a student at East Meadow High School when terrorists attacked the World Trade Center in 2001. He was 17, he said, when he told his mother, Cynthia, that he wanted to serve in the military, and she didn’t believe him.
“Everyone was showing their patriotism and how proud they were to be an American,” he said, acknowledging that his desire to join the military seemed like an impulsive reaction to the state of the country’s foreign affairs.
Rouff finished a semester at Adelphi University before serving in the Marine Corps for four years, from 2005 to 2009. He left the military to continue his education and get a degree, but his plan was interrupted when he was diagnosed with stage 3 Hodgkin’s lymphoma at age 23.
“I was lucky,” he said, adding that after a year of focusing on his health and undergoing chemotherapy, he was cancer-free. “That’s also why I became a physical education teacher — to teach people to lead a healthier life,” he added.
Starting in 2014, Rouff worked as a leave replacement phys. ed. teacher at McVey and Meadowbrook elementary schools and East Meadow High.
He went on to be a phys. ed. and health teacher at Friends Academy in Locust Valley, where he has been for one year. He has also been a coach at CrossFit Invasion in Bellmore.
One of his subjects as a teacher was cancer prevention and treatment. His lesson plan included a “surprise” guest speaker, a cancer survivor, but unbeknown to his students, it was Rouff himself. “It hits home with the kids,” he said. “It teaches them that anybody can get it and survive it.”
And Rouff is now serving his country again, this time in the National Guard, and will graduate from the U.S. Army Officer Candidate School in Fort Benning, Ga., in September. He would normally graduate as a sergeant, but a recent promotion will grant him the title of lieutenant and platoon sergeant, and one weekend a month he will oversee a group of 40 soldiers on Lexington Avenue in Manhattan. “Once a month, I’ll get to help my soldiers like I help my kids at school,” he said. In addition, he will do two weeks of summer training.
Editor's note: A previous version of this article stated that Jordan Rouff was becoming a platoon sergeant. He is becoming a platoon leader. He also began teaching in East Meadow in 2014, not 2011, where he tought phys. ed. before teaching at Friends Academy this year as a phys. ed. and health teacher. The Herald apologizes for the misinformation.