This month’s author is 16-year-old Jason Colon, a junior and a Cadet Chief Petty Officer in the Colts Neck NJROTC program. Jason entered high school with big dreams and big expectations for himself. He wasn’t sure that he would be able to accomplish all that he desired, but he learned that the key to success lies partially in opportunities but mainly in himself. Here is Jason’s story.
I’ve been encouraged to share my perspective; one that I believe carries some valuable insights. I’m not a motivational speaker, philosopher or some ancient seer – just a junior at Colts Neck High School. I won’t act like I’m the keeper of all knowledge or the provider of perfect advice for my peers. But, in my own modest way, I have learned a thing or two through my experience in the Navy Junior ROTC.
My priorities lie between my education, some extracurriculars and mainly Navy Junior ROTC. I know my time in ROTC will be short compared to my life ahead, but for now, it’s a main priority, and I can’t imagine it any other way. I can say with the utmost certainty and clarity that being a cadet in the Colts Neck High School Navy Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (NJROTC) is hands down the best thing that has happened in my life. Each and every day, my pride is re-fulfilled with every button of my uniform jacket, shoelace on my oxfords and each vibrant thread of the ribbons I’ve earned. When I look in the mirror, I’m reminded of what I represent and how far I’ve come. What would my life have been without this program? I don’t know, and that’s just great with me.
While I anxiously awaited my acceptance into the program in 2021, I signed into my virtual classes – the bane of all students existences at the time. When the selections to the FRHSD’s Magnet Programs were officially announced, I was crushed to learn I was on the NJROTC waiting list. What had I done wrong? I was sure I was professional at my interview, so it must’ve been something else. I felt that somehow I was unworthy of this prestigious program. My fate rested in someone else’s hands. As I sat on the waiting list, I thought, “Maybe I should decline, especially if these military guys thought I was unqualified. Why should I be in a program that doesn’t want me?”
I pushed past my insecurities and accepted a spot in the Cadet Class of 2025, and my life changed forever. What if I had listened to my once weak and defeated mind? What if I hadn’t challenged myself to take this on and prove everyone wrong? I probably would have carried the self-doubt brought on by others’ perceptions of me. I’d never pushed myself on to greater things. I would’ve stuck to the status quo and just be a follower. Luckily, I did accept the challenge.
My high school career started upside down due to the pandemic. Seating in alphabetical order was required in the eighth grade, and I was surrounded by the same three people for the entire year – none of whom applied to ROTC. I started my freshman year wanting to be the absolute best I could be. Motivated by the odds stacked against me and the doubts I had in myself, I was determined to be superior compared to my old self. My goal of achieving personal maturity carried me through my Basic Leadership Training, a week-long physical and academic introduction to life as a Cadet. It wasn’t an instant transformation. When we were ordered to hold our monsters (a folder with basic NJROTC knowledge) parallel to the deck, I’d look around and give my arm a break when I had the chance. But as the training progressed, I realized if I allowed myself to be bested by a paper folder, how could I ever accomplish anything remotely challenging? By the end of the week, I was proud to feel the throbbing burn in my muscles while I recited my basic knowledge to the Cadet Petty Officers training us. I enhanced my strengths. I was good at being loud, so when someone said, “Sound off!” I made sure I was 10 times louder than everyone around me. I pushed to improve my Physical Training skills. I wanted to give up many times, but I wouldn’t allow myself to get discouraged.
I focused on earning as many ribbons as I could. They represented my success and capabilities as a Cadet. I did color guards and community service to earn ribbons. When I finally pinned them on, I was as proud as could be. That was just the start. I joined the unit’s Department of Public and Civil Affairs. At first, I was excited to snap some pictures or take some videos, but as time went on, I craved more than just aiming and clicking. My goal was to be the best I could be. That’s when I realized that JROTC is what you make of it. You get out what you put in. No one else could make me a good leader or the perfect Cadet. If I wanted to be better, it was up to me. When opportunities presented themselves, I took them, and when there weren’t any, I created them. I expanded my knowledge on each aspect of the Public and Civil Affairs Department and the other battalion departments. Through learning and striving to improve, I became the Department Chief of Public Affairs. This eventually led to my meritorious promotion to Cadet Chief Petty Officer at the end of my sophomore year.
I’m proud of all that, but I’ve still got a lot of work to do and even more to learn. I stay motivated by asking myself, “Why am I doing this?” That question constantly reminds me of my personal goals and instills a sense of pride that goes deeper than the array of colors from my ribbon rack. It’s a sense of pride that’s in my heart. It’s a sense of pride that you can know too, if you follow your heart and don’t let other people put down your dreams. Your dreams are yours! Cherish them and you can achieve them. I have achieved my initial dream of being a Cadet in the NJROTC, and it has taught me to dream bigger for my future because I know now that I can get there as long as I keep trying!