Navy ROTC Midshipmen Commissioned as Officers

Story Number: NNS180105-04Release Date: 1/5/2018 6:57:00 AM
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By Scott A. Thornbloom, Naval Service Training Command Public Affairs

MADISON, Wis. (NNS) -- Rear Adm. Mike D. Bernacchi, commander, Naval Service Training Command (NSTC), commissioned three University of Wisconsin Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps (Navy ROTC) midshipmen as Navy officers during a ceremony in the Senate chamber of the state capitol building near campus, Dec. 22.

The three Navy ROTC students were also recognized by their commanding officer, U. S. Navy Capt. Gregory Zacharski, at the ceremony. The newly commissioned officers will look to serve around the globe in the aviation and surface warfare communities.

"I can't think of a better venue for the commissioning of a University of Wisconsin graduate than in the State Capitol Senate Chamber and having the admiral here was just an enhancement on the entire ceremony," said Zacharski.

"I hope the midshipmen (being commissioned) remember from whence they came and enjoy the ceremony for what it was today, but the real hard work begins now once they get out to the fleet."

Commissioned as ensigns were; Aaron Ahlgrimm from Falls Church, Virginia; John Brueckbauer from Mundelein, Illinois; and Christopher R. Poellinger, from Coon Valley, Wisconsin. Both Ahlgrimm and Brueckbauer are working toward being pilots. Poellinger, as a Surface Warfare Office, is currently serving on board the multi-purpose amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7) in Mayport, Florida.

It was the first Navy ROTC commissioning ceremony for Bernacchi since taking over as NSTC commander.

"I couldn't think of a more perfect location than here at the Wisconsin State Capital Building," he said.

"I am so happy to be here and although I grew up in Michigan, I was born in Milwaukee. My dad is from Kenosha, and I have several family members who still live in the area, so it is always nice returning home."

Bernacchi thanked and congratulated the NROTC instructors and staff at Wisconsin for ensuring all midshipmen receive the best training to become Naval officers. He also acknowledged and welcomed to the Navy each midshipman's family member in attendance in the Senate chamber.

"Today you join our Navy family," he said. "The ROTC staff has spent the last four years developing your midshipmen's character and professional competence. They are an incredibly talented group of professionals. But you are the key, for you laid the strong foundation upon which the instructors build. You have been there, guiding them, teaching them, instilling values and molding them their entire lives."

The admiral told the families, some who also served in the military, their job has been more difficult and demanding than anyone else.

"We owe you our most sincere gratitude. And as you already know your job is not over yet - it's never over. As officers in the greatest and most powerful Navy and Marine Corps the world has ever known, these young men and women will continue to need your love, prayers and support as they always have," Bernacchi said.

Capt. Zacharski then read the appointment letter from Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer and Rear Adm. Bernacchi administered the commissioning oath to the midshipmen.

Each newly commissioned officer said a few words after they received their ranks. Each rank was affixed to their shoulders by family members and each new officer thanked those family members and thanked their fellow midshipmen and their school.

"It really is invigorating," said Ensign Ahlgrimm. "College turns into a grind and to have it all culminate, puts it into perspective and makes everything worth it."

Ensign Brueckbauer called finally being commissioned after four years of being part of University of Wisconsin Navy ROTC unit surreal. "I'm definitely excited for the next part and getting out to the fleet."

Ensign Poellinger called the ceremony and the opportunity to serve in the fleet with other commissioned officer from Navy ROTC units awesome.

"I can't thank my parents, family and staff here at the university enough for getting me to this point,' he said.

After the ceremony family and friends congratulated the newly commissioned officers. Many of the parents present described the moment watching their children commission as one of the proudest in their lives.

"He's third generation Navy," said retired U. S. Navy Cmdr. Nerissa Brueckbauer, Ensign Brueckbauer's mother. "To see the tradition carry on is pretty special."

Poellinger's mother and father said it was extraordinary to be in the state capital to see their son commissioned since they are from the state.

"This was very special," said Poellinger's father Thomas. "It's the best moment we could ever put together."

Retired U. S. Navy Cmdr. Jim Ahlgrimm thanked the Navy ROTC staff for developing his son from a young midshipman to an Ensign. "I really appreciate the leadership and staff here. For me, I'm excited for what he has accomplished and really excited for his future."

Bernacchi had some final words of advice for the newly-commissioned ensigns.

"In a few years, none of you will remember what I said at your commissioning and that's ok, but you will never forget your experiences in the ROTC program. As officers, we are expected to lead with integrity, accountability, initiative, and toughness. These are not just words; they are our way of life! To lead with integrity is to maintain honor, courage, and commitment in everything that we do, and to strengthen these values in our shipmates as well and that is hard," Bernacchi said.

He told them leaders take initiative - leaning forward, innovating, recognizing and tapping into their resources to accomplish the mission, realizing they might fail but doing it anyway.

"Leaders are tough! There is no better example of developing physical and mental toughness than watching your training led by your Navy and Marine instructors over the course of four years," he said. "These are our core attributes - our way of life - the standards we set - the standards we enforce - and the standards of the thousands who have gone before you, the standards you will maintain as for the thousands who are about to follow you into harm's way."

The Navy ROTC program is overseen by Bernacchi and his NSTC staff at Naval Station Great Lakes, Illinois. Navy ROTC was established to develop midshipmen mentally, morally and physically and to imbue them with the highest ideals of duty, loyalty and Navy core values in order to commission college graduates as Naval officers who possess a basic professional background, are motivated toward careers in the Naval service and have a potential for future development in mind and character so as to assume the highest responsibilities of command, citizenship and government.

NSTC oversees 98 percent of initial officer and enlisted accessions training for the Navy, as well as the Navy's Citizenship Development program. NSTC also includes Recruit Training Command (RTC), the Navy's only boot camp also at Naval Station Great Lakes, the Navy ROTC program at more than 160 colleges and universities, Officer Training Command (OTC) Newport, Rhode Island, and Navy Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (NJROTC) and Navy National Defense Cadet Corps (NDCC) citizenship development programs at more than 600 high schools worldwide.

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Rear Adm. Michael D. Bernacchi, commander, Naval Service Training Command (NSTC), speaks to University of Wisconsin-Madison Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps midshipmen and family members before a commissioning ceremony.
171222-N-IK959-036 MADISON, Wis. (Dec. 22, 2017) Rear Adm. Michael D. Bernacchi, commander, Naval Service Training Command (NSTC), speaks to University of Wisconsin-Madison Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps midshipmen and family members before a commissioning ceremony held in the Senate Chamber of the Wisconsin State Capitol. (U. S. Navy photo Scott A. Thornbloom)
January 5, 2018
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