NAPLES, Italy (NNS) -- For many of the 113 Naples American High School (NAHS) Naval Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (NJROTC) cadets, Oct. 8 was a first. For some, it was their first time marching, and for a few "old salts," it was a first time in command.
These students polished their shoes, belt buckles and collar insignia in preparation for the unit's first formation of the school year.
"This is when all the cadets who have won awards and promotions are recognized," said NJROTC Lt. Chris Guanzon, the unit's executive officer. "Then our unit marches together and gets ready for any inspections that are coming up. We could have done a lot better, but it wasn't bad for our first formation."
The unit's Senior Naval Science Instructor Retired Lt. Rodney Light agreed.
"It's the beginning of the year, and half the unit has never marched," he said. "The other half is still remembering how to march. It's a learning curve, just like every year, and obviously we have to start at the beginning because we have new people, but we've got good, solid leadership out there, and they feel comfortable with what they are doing."
The whole point of NJROTC is to teach leadership, and to prepare students for what lies ahead.
"NJROTC is an opportunity for young people to prepare themselves for the world and learn the tools that are necessary to survive and to succeed," Light said. "This is where they can make a few mistakes without getting hurt and learn from their mistakes, where they can experience the satisfaction and responsibility that comes from leadership."
Guanzon joined NJROTC as a freshman, and has risen through the ranks to become second in command of his unit.
"When I first enrolled in the Naples high school four year ago, I could have joined the band, yearbook staff, NJROTC or whatever," he recalled. "I chose NJROTC."
There are many things Guanzon likes about the program.
"It's a program in high school that gets you ready for college," he explained. "It's not all about discipline, it's not all teaching you about the military. It's mostly about leadership skills and organizing your time."
According to NAHS senior, NJROTC Ens. Anjelica Hopkins-Slayton, it was the "salt-and-pepper" uniform - a white shirt with black slacks - that attracted her to the unit two-and-a-half years ago.
"I just saw everyone wearing the uniforms, and I thought it was interesting, so I joined," she said. "I thought it made the NJROTC students look powerful, so I wanted to wear it."
For Guanzon, the uniform represents more than just power, and even pride. It represents duty.
"I like that sense that when you put your uniform on, you are held to a higher standard," he explained. "You are the higher standard for the other students."
Hopkins-Slayton said the sense of discipline instilled in her by NJROTC is one of the things that kept her in the program, and got her the job of administrative officer within the unit.
"In life, to succeed, you have to have discipline and work hard," she said. "You can't always do things your way and expect to stay a step ahead in the world."
Both these students said they expect their time spent in NJROTC to pave the way for college scholarships in the future, while providing a sense of focus for the present.
"With NJROTC, I know where my life is going," Guanzon said.
It's hearing words such as these that inspire Light to keep teaching NJROTC after nine years.
"In the course of time, from the eighth grade through their senior year, we see them gain tremendous self-confidence," he said. "They get the chance to lead small groups of people, as well as the chance to lead the entire unit by their fourth year.
"It's a great pleasure to watch them grow up, and be able to assume the mantle of leadership."
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