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Marysville NJROTC reflects on 16 years

MARYSVILLE — While this winter’s evening parade ceremony at the Marysville-Pilchuck High School gymnasium was the continuation of an annual tradition for the Marysville Naval Junior ROTC, it also represented a first for the 16-year-old organization, since it was the first time that students from two separate high schools in Marysville came together for this ceremony as part of the same NJROTC company.

Retired U.S. Navy Cmdr. Randy Brasfield and Master Chief Petty Officer Ed Dawson have been with Tomahawk Company at the M-PHS campus since the program started there 16 years ago, and they’ve seen its numbers grow from an estimated 70 students in its first year to 118 cadets in this year’s company.

Dawson cited community service as a cornerstone of the Marysville NJROTC, and thanked the Marysville community for being so accepting of the NJROTC program and its members.

“It’s about learning to be good citizens and good leaders,” Dawson said. “We teach them to give back and get involved in the community.”

Among the most significant shifts in student learning that Dawson has witnessed in Marysville are those tied to technology. Not only does the NJROTC now boast teaching tools that allow Dawson and Brasfield to get a more immediate sense of the students’ progress in their classroom lessons at any given time, but Dawson also credited social networking media with making young people more connected to the community.

“These kids have been exposed to computers and the Internet their whole lives,” Dawson said. “They’re more aware of what’s going on around them.”

In spite of this year’s Tomahawk Company coming from both M-PHS and the Marysville Getchell High School campus, Dawson described the cadets as a notably cohesive team, to the degree that Rear Adm. Douglass Biesel, the commander of Navy Region Northwest, commented on it when he served as the reviewing officer for Tomahawk Company on Dec. 2.

“He was impressed by how they’ve matured over the years,” Dawson said. “That’s happened under the cadets’ own leadership.”

Four of those cadets — Cadet Lt. Cmdr. Mark Blankenship Jr., Lt. Rob Cristi, Ensign Austin Ramey and Master Chief Petty Officer Chelsea Scott — received awards of $250 each from the Seattle chapter of the Military Officers Association of America. Blankenship, Cristi and Ramey are all seniors who have been in the NJROTC for all four years of high school, and while each one credited family members with inspiring them to try on the uniform, their own perseverance has led them to decide on the military as their career path after graduation.

“It’s like a big old family,” Ramey said of the NJROTC. “Everyone here helps keep everyone else motivated. The things I’ve learned about leading squads and teaching other cadets how to do things will carry over after graduation, even in the civilian world.”

While Ramey weighs his options between the Navy SEALs or the surface warfare officer track, Cristi’s interest in aviation has him considering both the Navy and the U.S. Air Force after he graduates.

“When I wear the uniform, I feel a lot of pride,” Cristi said. “I feel a sense of discipline within myself. I’ve learned how to communicate and how to handle problems within a unit. This is a rewarding program that offers lots of opportunities for the future.”

Blankenship, who serves as the commanding officer of both Tomahawk Company as a whole and its drill team, had the scope of those opportunities underscored for him on Jan. 5, when he learned that he’s received a full-ride scholarship to the U.S. Naval Academy, covering not only his tuition, but also his room and board, to the tune of approximately $400,000.

“This is the greatest feeling of my life,” said Blankenship, who hopes either to become a fighter pilot or to work in intelligence at the Pentagon. “For four years, this program has prepared me for life after high school. It’s taught me attention to detail and time management. I’ve seen cadets lead with integrity, and I’ve seen our recruit numbers go way up. When people look back on their high school careers, so many of them wish they’d done more. The things I’ve learned here, I wouldn’t have found anywhere else. This is one of the best things that’s ever happened to me.”

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