Navy admiral inspires Colts Neck ROTC cadets during visit


The members of the Naval Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (NJROTC) at Colts Neck High School have been recognized for their accomplishments by an active duty U.S. Navy admiral.

Navy Rear Adm. Michael Bernacchi, Commander of Naval Services and Training Command, visited the high school on Jan. 19 and attended an assembly for members of the NJROTC.

According to the Freehold Regional High School District, the unit, which is open to students in all eight of the district’s sending communities, has been named the second best unit in the United States for the past two years.

District administrators said the unit has also been recognized as a Distinguished Unit with Academic Honors for nine consecutive years.

Bernacchi said he is proud of the unit’s accomplishments and of the updates he receives regarding the program’s progress.

“The ROTC is an opportunity that anybody can take advantage of,” he said. “It’s about leadership and developing citizen skills you use no matter what you do and where you are … whether you are in the military or out of the military, it’s all about service.

“The drive to help serve your fellow man and woman is something I hope you have or will get. As long as I wear this uniform, anybody who also wears the uniform has my back and I have theirs and it’s a great feeling,” Bernacchi said.

The NJROTC program is directed by Administrative Officer Maj. Gregory Penczak, Master Chief Michael Dunkin and Master Chief David Loring. Students from Colts Neck, Englishtown, Farmingdale, Freehold Borough, Freehold Township, Howell, Manalapan and Marlboro are eligible to apply for admission.

Students who are enrolled in the program are not obligated to sign up for military service following graduation.

There are 573 NJROTC and Navy National Defense Cadet Corps units in the nation, with more than 90,000 cadets nationwide.

During a question and answer session with students, Bernacchi offered the following advice for young people who are considering military service.

“The three things you can do to prepare are to have a sound body or (participate in) athletics, a sound mind and citizen development, and (have a) sound character,” Bernacchi said.

“We want people in the Navy who are of sound, moral character and who are smart. You don’t have to be rocket scientist smart, but you have to have a brain. In the Navy, there is no place at all if you don’t have sound character, we don’t tolerate it. The more background, the more diversity we have in our Navy, the stronger we are,” he said.

“Rear Adm. Bernacchi’s visit to the cadets of the Colts Neck High School Navy JROTC was very warmly received and the cadets came away very impressed by his warmth as a leader,” Penczak said.

“His stories about his personal life and family, along with his apparent love of the Navy and his life as an officer in submarines immediately made a connection with the cadets. He was funny, sincere and totally engaging, and the cadets I spoke with afterward were motivated to become better students, leaders and citizens.

“We would love to have the admiral visit again. He was a living example of why our military is so outstanding and of the great men and women who quietly serve our nation on a daily basis,” Penczak said.