Matthew Ireland said joining the Navy Junior Reserve Officers Training Corp four years ago was a life-altering decision.
The 18-year-old from Laurel joined for the discipline training and the elevated rank given once he reaches the Marine Corps. He also picked up a few other skills along the way.
“There’s so many benefits from it, leadership skills, characteristics you couldn’t get anywhere else,” said Ireland, who plans to attend a naval academy in the fall.
On Saturday, Ireland was of the hundreds that participated in the Area 4 Regional Drill Competition at Mattituck High School, hosted by the the Southold/Greenport/Mattituck NJROTC Unit. The event was run by Maj. William Grigonis, 48, of Southold, the senior naval science instructor for the 300-member Mattituck unit.
Ten teams from Connecticut, New Jersey and Long Island competed in a show of discipline, uniformity and military and academic knowledge. The nine-hour event ended with a tug-of-war, Grigonis said.
“This is our seventh year hosting and our fifth as a regional,” he said. “The goal is, we’re a big unit and we want to give back to the entire area.”
Each participating unit was led by a cadet who called out military commands to guide the group through the routine they’ve been practicing for two months, he said. Students in uniform had to march in formation, change directions in cadence, call out in unison and when they stopped moving had to be exactly an arm’s length of one another.
Riverhead High School took home a first-place trophy for its performance in the competition, followed by New Jersey’s Linden High School and Bethel High School in Connecticut. Each is guaranteed a spot in the regional finals to be held May 12 in Middletown.
Because it was the host, Mattituck’s unit was not eligible to compete but will show its skills at another regional competition in January to be held in Linden, N.J.
For cadet Denzel Benjamin, 16, of Passaic’s NJROTC unit, the organization isn’t just about the drills. The Patterson teen joined the unit in 2009 as a high school freshman. He is unsure if he wants to pursue a career in the military but does hope to attend the naval academy.
“I originally joined for physical training and discipline,” he said. “And I picked up some other character traits along the way that will help me in the future as well.”
Kerri Hands, 17, of Orient, who hopes to have a career as a Navy helicopter pilot, agreed. The NJROTC was attractive to her for the social and life experience lessons it promised.
“Freshman year when I first joined I thought ‘Wow I can meet other people from other schools, I can make new friends, gain some life experience,’” she said. “And then I just fell in love with it.”