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3 ROTC cadets from LI win rare honors

Cadet Shelby Pickerell, 16 from Southold, gets a

Cadet Shelby Pickerell, 16 from Southold, gets a hug from her mother Sherry after she received the Navy ROTC Medal of Valor at a ceremony at Southold Jr. Sr. High School. She was also awarded a full four-year college scholarship worth $180,000 from the Navy. (Sept. 11, 2012) Credit: Randee Daddona

As the U.S. flag flew at half-staff behind her to mark the anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks, Shelby Pickerell was all smiles about the Navy ROTC accolades that lay before her.

Pickerell, 16, a senior at Southold Junior-Senior High School, had an idea she was receiving the Legion of Valor Bronze Cross for Achievement medal. It is given annually to 20 cadets worldwide who signify the best leadership in the naval ROTC program, which this year totals about 88,000 cadets.

But she teared up when Navy recruiting district officer John Skarin awarded her a $180,000 scholarship from the Navy, which was a surprise and is one of only a few awarded. Another medal and scholarship also went to two other Long Island students.

"It's very symbolic," Pickerell said of receiving the two honors on the 11th anniversary of the attacks. "It shows that the U.S. is still going strong."

Pickerell, whose first choice of colleges is Stanford University, was surrounded by her fellow cadets, who were in formation on the school's front lawn to honor those lost on 9/11. Her mother, Sherry, and grandparents Diane and Howard Pickerell were also there.

The only other winner of the Legion of Valor medal in the region -- which includes Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Maine -- is also from Suffolk County. Jeffrey Gao, 17, who attends William Floyd High School in Mastic Beach, was told about the award Tuesday by Jay Tweed, the school's commanding officer.

He was inspired to join the corps as a youngster.

"I was a little kid watching the Christmas parade in my town," Gao said, "and I saw the ROTC kids marching down the avenue, and I thought it was cool. And it's more than I expected."

Gao, of Shirley, will officially receive the medal, which is also based on academic achievement and community service, at a November ceremony.

"He is an outstanding cadet, and there is no doubt in my mind that he will achieve bigger and better things as time goes on," Tweed said.

Harold Hubbard, 17, got a hint something special was going on Tuesday when a fellow cadet at Riverhead High School told him his parents were in the library.

A few minutes later, Hubbard learned that he, too, would receive a $180,000 scholarship, news that meant he no longer needed his part-time job to raise money for textbooks.

Hubbard said he plans to study aeronautical engineering. Boston University is his first choice, but he is considering Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida.

"I'd love to be a pilot," said Hubbard, whose parents and sister were at the ceremony. "I want to understand how it works before I get into the thing."


Global learning


The ROTC program is conducted in high schools across the globe and includes the Army and Air Force

ROTC -- Reserve Officers' Training Corps -- Emphasizes citizenship, leadership and understanding of the country's maritime heritage

Classroom instruction takes place throughout the year, and includes basic knowledge of naval operations

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