Nov 18, 2020

Freehold Teen’s ROTC Experience Molds Leadership Skills

By Lori Draz and Maranda Dalton

Cadet Commanding Officer Maranda Dalton participates in Read Across America Day.

Welcome to Teen Scene. Each month our young authors write, in their own voice, stories that will educate and inform fellow students and parents. If you are a teen who would like to write your story, contact The Journal. We’ll help you polish it up, so don’t worry, let’s just get to sharing.

This month’s author is 17-year-old Maranda Dalton, the cadet commanding officer of Colts Neck High School’s NJROTC. Maranda had always had an interest in the military and was naturally drawn to the NJROTC, but Maranda didn’t know a soul at Colts Neck High School. To pursue her interest, she would have to go solo into a new situation. Joining a new club, heading away from home for the first time or trying a new hobby requires taking a risk, but if you push yourself and work hard you can find great satisfaction. Here is Maranda’s story.

Four years ago, I was excited to learn about the opportunities available at the NJROTC Program at Colts Neck High School. Little did I know that, as a senior, I would be the commanding officer in charge of almost 200 students and $1 million worth of equipment and inventory. My journey from freshman plebe to commanding officer has shown me what it really means to be a leader. While I don’t expect everyone to feel that NJROTC is for them, I hope everyone can relate what I have learned about pushing through a challenge. I stepped out of my comfort zone to reach my goals, and that experience, I believe, can be applied to any challenging situation.

As an eighth grader living in the Freehold Regional District, there are so many opportunities for a specialized experience in high school. I was excited but nervous when I learned I was accepted into the CNHS NJROTC Program. One of 12 magnet programs in the FRHSD, the CNHS NJROTC Program is authorized by and run in conjunction with the US Navy. It focuses on many aspects of forming a young adult, particularly and most importantly citizenship, forming middle schoolers into highly capable adults.

I did not know a single person going to Colts Neck. Most people start high with at least a few friends. It was a brand-new start for me, and I did not let the fear of the unknown stop me. I took to the program with intense dedication. With focus, I gained confidence, took an active part in my unit, and formed new relationships in the process. Fairly quickly, I was part of a hardworking and dedicated team of young women and men who took pride in something significant.

NJROTC develops the whole person. Not all cadets go on to military careers after high school, but everyone who finishes the program will have gained valuable love and respect for our country. They also learn a lot about our country’s rich military history, the customs and practices of the military, and how to give service to others in a wide variety of ways. The opportunities I received allowed me to become part of something big. I always had an interest in a military career path, but once I became involved in JROTC, I knew it was for me.

The program provides for as much involvement as you want. There are opportunities for physical fitness, academic competitions, drill team, cyber security, orienteering and more. There are also opportunities to be part of the greater CNHS community: selfless pursuits – hours of community service in a broad variety of areas – from nursing homes, beach cleanups, veterans’ activities, to book and clothing drives. I chose to focus on drill and physical training, and soon I was on both varsity teams as a 14-year-old freshman. I found myself on a bus with 40 cadets heading to the national competition in Pensacola, Florida. I combined my motivation and dedication with the discipline and teamwork I learned and eventually placed third individually in the nation for sit ups. I have been the captain of the Physical Training team and the Exhibition Drill team.

These accomplishments, however, are not what makes me feel the most successful or accomplished.

My time in NJROTC has taught me three particularly important values: honor to uphold a strong moral standard of right and wrong, courage to have confidence in myself and my decisions, and commitment to have the will and endurance to follow through and complete the tasks required of me. These values opened my eyes to what success really means. These core values shaped me and gave me important pathways to thrive as a leader. I learned to always put the best version of myself forward to represent me, my unit and school. That’s a good way to approach any organization, team or group you’re a part of. Leaders give their best to their teammates, co-workers, friends and community. By living my life with the three values I described, I discovered the most important lesson in my life: the true meaning of leadership is putting the well-being of your people first.

Without a team of extremely dedicated cadets, my unit would not have been the top unit in the nation or NJROTC National Champions in Physical Training for two straight years. Our success did not happen by luck; it is rooted in the relentless pursuit of greatness that all cadets have gained from their time within our program.

This year I, like so many others, faced a real test of leadership with the pandemic. The challenges it has created have forced everyone in the unit to adapt. Social distancing and government regulations have greatly affected our program’s ability to practice and prepare for the upcoming competition season. Additionally, there are countless cadets who have lost family members and who are struggling to stay positive. We are still here, and amidst all the challenges, we strive to find new and improved ways to reach our desired goals and aspirations. Finding and cultivating the leader in you will help you overcome these and the other challenges you will face in your lives. Stay strong, focused and be your best every day for yourself, your team and for the world.