Here in Southeastern Connecticut, we are well-acquainted with the U.S. Navy and the extensive maritime history of this region. What many people don’t know about is the Navy Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (NJROTC) program at New London High School.
This outstanding program is part of a national organization with a mission “to instill in students in the United States secondary educational institutions the values of citizenship, service to the United States, personal responsibility, and a sense of accomplishment.” The program encourages the confidence and determination to advance, and approximately 60 percent of graduating NJROTC cadets go on to higher education, according to the official website.
Retired Lieutenant Commander Carl Matteucci is the instructor at New London High, and he emphasizes immediately that NJROTC is not a recruiting tool. Many of the graduating seniors do go on to military service, but others opt for college or enter the work force.
Several cadets at the school were recently on hand to talk about the program and what it means to them. Cadet Executive Officer Morgan Slusarz is a senior; Cadet Administrative Officer Nick Costa is a senior; Cadet Seaman Apprentice Nathalie Rosa Rivas Colon is a sophomore; and, Cadet Chief Petty Officer Gwen Carter is a junior.
Connecticut Family (CF): “What does being part of NJROTC mean to you?”
Cadet Costa: “As a leader, you get to see the development of other people and yourself, and what you are capable of.”
Cadet Slusarz: “It’s a chance to help improve yourself and others, and helps you get a sense of what it’s like to actually have people be dependent on you, and have that sense of responsibility. You can go at your own pace and find out how you develop as a leader and as a person.”
Cadet Colon: “To me, it means being part of something and helping others be better versions of themselves.”
Cadet Carter: “Being able to see the people around you grow and mature, and become better leaders.”
The reasons for joining NJROTC were varied among these students:
Cadet Slusarz: “Honestly, I did not want to do it at all at first—I had no intention of joining the military. But one of my classes was only a semester long and I needed to join something, so one of my friends from the fencing class convinced me to join. I just kind of fell in love with it.
Cadet Costa: “I don’t remember the reason why I joined, but I do remember being in a room with a guidance counselor for eighth grade with two other people who were going to the STEM school. One said he was going to join NJROTC, so I did too.”
Cadet Carter: “My older brother was in the program from his sophomore through senior year. I always thought, ‘Wow, that uniform looks cool—I want to join that.’”
Cadet Colon: “I joined because it seemed fun. You get to grow a connection with people, not just as people you go to school with, but as friends, and that’s pretty cool.”
Some family connections also influenced those decisions. Cadet Slusarz has a cousin in the Navy and her grandfather served in the Navy. Cadet Carter’s grandfather retired from the Navy and her cousin is currently active duty with the Navy. Cadet Colon’s father is in the Navy.
These four cadets agreed that the most important things they would take away would be leadership skills and camaraderie, an elevated level of understanding, and maturity. Commander Matteucci also added confidence to that list.
“Both the seniors wouldn’t look at you, talk to you, and would avoid you if possible when they first joined,” he says. “Now they’ve grown great leadership skills, and they interact and speak respectfully.”
NJROTC started at New London High School in 2002. For Commander Matteucci, 2018 is his second year. “To qualify for this instructor post, you have to apply to be an instructor, and you must retire from the military,” he says. Matteucci spent 30 years in the Navy, both as enlisted Chief Petty Officer and commissioned limited duty officer. He was the Port Ops Officer at the sub base, then finished as Executive Officer for his last post.
Matteucci is very proud of the cadets in the program. “This unit did more than 2,000 hours of community service last year, which is a significant amount,” he says. “The cadets make it work. It’s their unit to run. I’m just here to keep them off the guard rails and build their confidence and competence a little so they can exercise their superior leadership skills.”
CF: “Do you get many students who join, but don’t stay in?”
Cmdr. Matteucci: “Yes. The program requires the students to wear a uniform in order to pass the course. Many times I get freshmen who weren’t aware of that, and it’s a problem. This is the standard. It teaches these young people personal responsibility. And I have to maintain this standard because this program is sponsored by the Navy. They pay for all the curriculum and all the uniforms.”
The brief insight into this excellent program provides a glimpse of our future leaders.
CF: “What does the future hold for you?”
Cadet Costa: “As far as college goes, I’m at the very end of the application process for the Air Force Academy, and I’m also applying to the Coast Guard Academy.”
Cadet Slusarz: “I want to go to college, but undecided on a major. But I definitely want to do ROTC in college.”
Cadet Colon: “I want to go to college and become a surgeon, and I also want to join the Marines.”
Cadet Carter: “I want to join the Navy and become a nuclear technician on a submarine.”
Well done, NJROTC.