Nov 01, 2022

Teen Scene

By Lori Draz and Robert Maravelias

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 16-year-old c/Ensign Robert Maravelias S9 Officer, a junior in Colts Neck High School’s NJROTC program. Becoming the person you hope to be is not a matter of luck or connections. Becoming an expert and a winner is about hard work and dedication. When you put your focus, time and effort into something, you can accomplish things you never thought you could, and when you’re willing to share your knowledge, you become a leader. Here is Robert’s story.

You get out of life what you put into it. Whether it be studying for an upcoming test or practicing basketball drills for the big game, at some point we all have to rise to the challenge and do the best we can. The more difficult something is, it’s all the more rewarding when you come out on the other side. While I am only a junior in the Colts Neck High School NJROTC Program, I have stepped up to the plate and put in the hard work, and I am already seeing my hard work pay off.

I first discovered NJROTC and the other magnet programs in the district when I was in the seventh grade. I knew that I wanted more for myself, and ROTC really stood out. It seemed more than just something to put on a resume for college; it seemed like an experience that would shape me into a young man. The military never interested me as a child, and I had no family in it, so naturally, I was curious about what I would be getting into. I attended the unit’s open house which provided an in-depth explanation of what the program entailed. I felt this was the program for me, and even though I was unsure about how I would do in it, I applied. I also applied to the Law and Public Service Program as I enjoyed public speaking and government. I was accepted into both, but quickly chose ROTC, even though I knew it would be more of a challenge. I felt that by meeting the challenge I would come out as a fully formed young man and also a leader. 

My first experience as a member of ROTC was the annual Basic Leadership Training (BLT), a week-long miniature boot camp held for freshmen that consists of physical training, academics, learning the program’s basics, and most of all, getting yelled at. It’s not easy, but it is a rite of passage that all incoming freshmen, known as plebes, go through to become cadets. I struggled with the basics of drill and academics but came out confident in my abilities. The reason for my change was simple: the cadet leaders. They planned, ran and organized all the activities. These cadet leaders acted as both drill instructors and coaches, pushing us all to do better. It was at that moment I was beyond certain that I made the right decision to join this program. I admired these older cadets and hoped that one day I would be in their shoes, able to lead a unit and younger cadets to greatness. But I knew I would only be there if I worked hard and could rise to the challenge.

After graduating from BLT, I knew that a great way to be involved was to be a part of these teams and join what I could. I was eager to get involved in as much as I could, so I joined the S2 department and Cyberpatiot, a cyber security competition. Simply put, I was an eager freshman willing to do everything that I could. One day Major [Greg] Penczak, the senior Naval Science instructor, asked if anyone would like to learn to fly the drone or use the new video editing software. I volunteered to learn both, so Major suggested I join the S9 department which is the media collecting and public outlook of the unit.

Spearheading the drone and video editing aspects of the department and unit were challenging. I stayed after school for two hours just about every day to work on S9-related projects, and that work transformed S9 into a whole new department, unrecognizable from the small and irrelevant department known just a year ago. Since I was the only one who knew how to work the drones, I was also tasked with creating a competitive drone team for the unit. 

As the years progressed, I felt like I was getting out of the program what I had put in. The drone team became champions from Maine to Delaware, and I helped revive our underwater robotics team. I also earned a position on the varsity PT and Drill team. However, I am most proud of being the S9 officer. Being an officer in ROTC is an honor given to a select few seniors, and I consider being given that honor as a junior one of my biggest accomplishments.  

While I do have leadership positions, that is not what makes me a leader. Hard work and dedication have forged me into a leader, and I continue being forged with each new skill I learn and new challenge I take on. My advice to anyone making a big choice in life is this: Are you willing to do the work and put in the hours, to step up to the plate and tackle the challenges that may come your way? If you give it everything you can, you may be pleasantly surprised at the person you’ll become. My next challenge is applying to the United States Military Academy and to the Citadel and VMI under an ROTC scholarship where I will continue working on my goal to lead better and serve my country the best I can.