As nearly 20 Hamilton High School seniors were honored May 3 for making a commitment to military service, senior Gage Mann had to smile about his journey to this point.
“I accidentally signed up for NJROTC,” he said.
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When Mann’s guidance counselor suggested four years ago that he needed something other than a study hall to fill his freshman schedule, he found himself agreeing to her suggestion. Too late he realized he had agreed to join the Navy Junior Reserves Officer Training Corps.
“I was intimidated,” he said of his first day. “I was terrified.”
At first he reassured himself it was just for one year, but the positive influence of NJROTC instructors Captain Jim Allison, USN (Retired), and GySgt Todd McAlister, US Marine Corps (retired), inspired him to not only keep enrolling in the class, but also to pursue a military career in communications.
“I still tease him about it,” McAlister said, recalling Mann appearing in his class for the first time carrying a briefcase.
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While 40-45 students start the program, only a handful make it through all four years of personal training, community service, Color Guard training, and other requirements. The JROTC program has been in Hamilton for 17 years.
“It’s very demanding,” McAlister said. “Academics is the single most important.”
Josephine McQuinn found her calling for military service after watching her brother finish his Marine training at Parris Island in 2016. She was inspired by the ceremony, the history, and the atmosphere, she said.
“I love Parris Island so much,” she said. “I know when I go back, it’s going to be under completely different circumstances.”
She enlisted two weeks after turning 17. While her career path is in logistics, she said she is prepared to do whatever the Marines ask of her. It will help to have her close friend since middle school, Brooke Frederick, join her. The two will enter through a buddy program that will keep them together through boot camp and beyond.
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“I originally wanted to join the Navy, but I switched to the Marines after talking to (Josephine),” Frederick said. “I like that I’ll know somebody in there, and we’ll go through it all together.”
Zachary Doucette joined the Army Reserves last school year. He is following in the footsteps of numerous family members who served in a variety of military branches. While he initially was going to pursue a college degree, he recently decided to switch to active duty.
“It seemed a better fit for me,” he said.
As soon as he turns 20 in March, he plans to pursue Special Forces training.
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Guidance Counselor Matt Bradley said Hamilton has been honoring military enlistees with this special ceremony for several years, and that Hamilton has consistently sent 15-25 students to the military each year. An Army recruiter reported that Hamilton sends more students to the Army than any other high school in the entire recruiting territory, which covers multiple states.
Bradley credits the strong presence of recruiters and veterans for encouraging students to join, as well as the camaraderie NJROTC students have with the student body. While not recruiters, the NJROTC instructors encourage students to focus on citizenship, academics and leadership.
NJROTC cadets and McAlister can be seen working out in gym class, doing lunges up and down the hallways, and interacting with students at various events.
Most impressive, Bradley said, is watching so many students make the choice to serve their country.
“They are making the choice to take a route that not a lot of people take,” Bradley said. “It says a lot about the student body here — where the motivations are.”
Students who have made a commitment as of May 3 include:
- Carlos Barrera, US Marine Corps
- Michael Bauer, US Navy
- Aidan Bullard, US Marine Corps
- Jacob Cornett, US Army
- Zachary Doucette, US Army
- Charles Ferris, US Marine Corps
- Brooke Frederick, US Marine Corps
- Shannon Gudgell, US Army
- Kevin Lacer, US Navy
- Olivia Macias, US Army
- Gage Mann, US Marine Corps
- Noel Mays, US Navy
- Josephine McQuinn, US Marine Corps
- Braneisha Miller, US Army National Guard
- Jordan Parsons, US Navy
- Bradley Stone, Air Force
- Joseph Walden, US Navy
- Jeromy Workman, US Army
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