From 43 to 150: New London JROTC boasts biggest ever corps of cadets
New London — The largest ever group of Navy Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps cadets from New London High School presented themselves for inspection Wednesday, marching around the school's gymnasium in shiny black dress shoes and crisp uniforms.
The 150 cadets, about 15 percent of the entire student body, were evaluated on their uniforms, marching skills and knowledge of the JROTC program by guest inspector Navy Cmdr. Greg Booth as part of their annual pass in review.
When the program started in 2002, there were only 43 cadets.
Retired Coast Guard Senior Chief Brian Smith, who runs the JROTC program, attributed the increased interest to greater exposure of the program. He noted the participation of several captains of the school's sports teams. Also, cadets have to wear their uniforms to school once a week, raising their visibility among the student body. And the program has received a number of awards in recent years, Smith added.
While the increase in participation hasn't translated into more cadets enlisting in the military, several cadets have gone on to attend military service academies, which hadn't really happened until recently, Smith said.
Cadet Lt. Cmdr. Kevin Ruiz, commanding officer of the corps, said there's been a record increase in freshman participation this year. His No. 2, Cadet Lt. Joseph Barberan, executive officer, said word about the program has gotten out. Students are hearing about the camaraderie and bond formed among cadets in the program, and that's encouraging them to join.
"It's shaped me into the person I am today," said Barberan, who joined the program when he was a freshman and is now a senior.
It was seeing Ruiz, whom he's known since middle school, and other cadets walking around the hallways that encouraged a shy Jordan Bostick to join. He said it's kept him out of trouble, his grades are up and he's made a lot of friends. That's a huge change from his elementary and middle school years, when he says he was frequently bullied.
Cadet Seaman Apprentice Alexandria DeGunia received the sailor of the quarter award, and at least a dozen students were recognized for exemplary personal appearance.
Retired Navy Cmdr. Ted Ward, who led the program with Smith until last year, made an appearance at Wednesday's inspection, returning to take care of "unfinished business," he said. Ward thanked Smith, his "long-term partner" since 2002, joking that "many marriages don't last that long." He also introduced his replacement, Retired Navy Lt. Cmdr. Carl Matteucci.
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