Everyone has heard the expression “brothers from another mother,” and this story may be just about as close as that gets. Meet Naval Pilots Louis Rondinella and Nicholas Giannopoulos, two graduates of the Colts Neck NJROTC program who met as high school freshmen and have been on an unstoppable, unique journey together.
Rondinella was born on March 21, 1997 in Brooklyn, and just four days later, Giannopoulos was also born in the same New York borough. By the time they were 3, both families had moved to Freehold and Colts Neck, respectively.
In the summer of 2011, the two met while attending an NJROTC orienteering event. Orienteering is a sport that is essentially a land navigation race through the woods using nothing but a compass and map.
When school started, Rondinella and Giannopoulos both became members of the NJROTC drill team and ended their freshman year successfully competing in the Daytona All Service National Drill Competition.
Over the years, their friendship grew stronger as they worked up the ranks of the prestigious CN JROTC program under the direction of Major Gregory J. Penczak, USMC (Ret) Senior Naval Science Instructor. Giannopoulos was a squad leader, platoon guidon, platoon commander and served as Alpha Company Commander during his senior year. Rondinella was also a squad leader, platoon guidon, platoon commander and served as Battalion Commanding Officer during his senior year.
The two also spent time together outside of school, and their families also became friends.
Then came senior year when both applied for the NROTC scholarship. Each applied to multiple universities and on March 20, 2015, both boys learned they were awarded the NROTC Scholarship. On April 20, 2015, they were accepted to Villanova University and made it official – four more years together!
In August 2015, Rondinella and Giannopoulos moved to Villanova as roommates. Attending college as an NROTC Midshipmen was challenging. In addition to a rigorous course load, they were required to take one Naval Science class every semester, engage in physical training on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, attend a naval lab on Tuesday afternoons, and proudly wear their military uniforms one day a week.
In the summer of 2016, both spent a month visiting different navy/marine corps bases on the East Coast. They saw Surface Warfare and Naval Aviation communities in Norfolk, Virginia; experienced submarines for a week in Kings Bay, Georgia; and ended their trip at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina for Marine week. This trip confirmed to both young men their dedication to the military, so when they had the option of leaving the program with no penalty prior to their sophomore year, both stayed and signed their commitment paperwork.
Rondinella and Giannopoulos were both hoping to be selected as pilots, and on Oct. 18, 2018, that wish came true. They were selected for Naval Aviation and would be heading to Pensacola, Florida. In May 2019, they graduated from Villanova University and became commissioned as Ensigns on the same day.
They were stationed at the “Cradle of Naval Aviation” NAS Pensacola, the home of the Blue Angels, and spent another year and a half as roommates. The program was a rigorous mix of studying; hands-on flight, parachute and ejection training; and physical endurance tests including a one-mile swim in flight suits. At the end of the training, both were awarded their flight suits during a celebration called “Flight Suit Friday.” The training continued with Primary Flight Training in Milton, Florida, where they flew the T-6B Texan. It consisted of more classes and flight evaluations. In the end, both had conducted almost 100 flight hours in the Navy Turboprop trainer.
Following this round of training, in June 2021, for the first time in nine years, they would go their separate ways. For Advanced Training, Giannopoulos selected Rotary (Helicopters) and remained in Pensacola, while Rondinella selected Maritime (larger fixed wing aircraft) and moved to Corpus Christi. Both completed Flight School in April 2022 and received their wings of gold officially becoming Naval Aviators.
In May 2022, Rondinella moved to Jacksonville, Florida to learn to fly the P-8A Poseidon and within days Giannopoulos, learned he was moving to the same city to learn to fly the MH-60 Romeo as a member of the HSM- 40 Airwolves. Once again, they were reunited.
Both men shared that they will both be transitioning from their Fleet Replacement Squadrons to their Sea Tours. Rondinella found out he will be stationed in Jacksonville for the next three years with the VP-8 Fighting Tigers. Where will Giannopoulos be? You guessed it – stationed in Jacksonville for the next three years with the HSM-70 Spartans.
Outside of that short time apart for Advanced Flight Training, these two friends have spent more than a decade together. Neither young man thought that when they went on that first orienteering exercise what they would really find was a brother and a career.
The Journal and the community are so proud of these wonderful young men, and we wish them a long, safe and happy life! We thank them and their families for their service.
Both Rondinella and Giannopoulos wish to thank Major Gregory Penczak, Master Chief Dunkin and Master Chief Loring of the Colts Neck High School NJROTC Unit for getting them started on this amazing journey as well as all the Teachers and Staff at CNHS. Rondinella also thanks parents Maria and Anthony, brothers Matt and Nicky and all his family and friends who have supported him along the way. Giannopoulos thanks parents Gus and Andrea, sister Ariana, girlfriend Abigail and his family and friends for their loyal and unwavering support this journey. Go Navy! Fly Navy!