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Freedom High School NJROTC at the MOAA Tampa Winter Gala 2021

By LCDR Pettis Sims, USN (Ret)

Senior Naval Science Instructor, Freedom High School

How do the youth of today learn about those who paved the road before them? How often do they truly get the chance to sit down and listen to their stories and learn from their advice? These opportunities are, too often, few and far between.  A handful of cadets from the Freedom High School NJROTC program were given this opportunity during the MOAA Christmas Gala on December 10th.

During the event cadets were responsible for the Color Guard as well as the POW/MIA table ceremony. Cadet Paola Ortiz-Ortiz mentioned “It was an honor to be there that night and be part of such an important ceremony for us the Cadets and everyone who attended.” This exposure to events honoring our vets, those who are still with us and those who aren’t, is a wonderful learning opportunity for these young adults. The chance to sit down with veterans who served this nation is not lost on these young men and women. When asked to share something about her experience at the gala, Cadet Carlaen Ross shared the following, “I really enjoyed talking to the veterans that were at my table and listening to some unique and interesting stories. They passed on a lot of life advice that I am going to consider following.”

For some of these cadets this was the first time attending a formal event such as this.  For other cadets, it was one of many they have attended.  They all felt honored to be part of it and welcomed by all the members of MOAA. Cadet Ana Rico, a 12th grader, said she enjoyed meeting new people and “A lot of people that served in the military and had years of experience and stories to share with us. I kept thinking how amazing it was what these people did and how they’re willing to help students. I loved doing the POW/MIA table and love what it represents and means for everyone.”  The food received rave reviews as well, although the cadets seemed to be far more impressed by the people they met and the event they were a part of.

In the NJROTC program there is of course a concentration on patriotism and honoring our servicemembers and veterans.  However, sitting down and having the opportunity to speak to members of the MOAA organization and listen to their life experiences is something many of these cadets have never had a chance to do.  It was indeed an honor for them.  Some of these students come from military families, while others do not.  Sitting down and experiencing a gala like this gave ALL of them a new perspective and respect for our military and our veterans, for the camaraderie amongst them, and for the sense of purpose that people in the military feel.  When asked about her overall thoughts on the evening Cadet Stephanie Burgos Vazquez remarked, “I felt comfortable, I felt welcomed and that made the night beautiful.  I am glad the MOAA program exists and that it is there to give a voice to the people, to our veterans, and the ones we should never forget.”

The students and staff of Freedom High School NJROTC appreciate our relationship with the Tampa Chapter of MOAA and are honored to provide the color guard and other ceremonial personnel for events such as the gala. For our cadets it is a chance to learn from those who have gone before them, those who have blazed trails, and those who have life advice to give.  This kind of opportunity is priceless for them and appreciated beyond measure.  Thank you to each and every member of MOAA that made this night possible. Thank you to those veterans who took the time out of their night to speak to the cadets and offer life advice.  Thank you to Colonel Dalcourt for the opportunity to be a participant in the program honoring our country and our veterans. Many might assume that average teenagers couldn’t possibly find a night like this more enjoyable than whatever it is they normally do on a Friday night, but this was not a group of average teenagers…it was teenagers that think things like this:

“It definitely wasn’t the typical Friday night you’d think a high school senior would be doing but I wouldn’t change it.  That was one of the best experiences I’ve had in my life and I’m forever grateful for it.”

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