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Vets Are Steady Hand on ROTC Helm

Tucked in a back corner of Brien McMahon High School is a group that runs with military precision. That's no surprise: Bob Killackey and Dave Pascoe bring four decades of experience in the armed forces to their task of instilling character and commitment in the young men and women in McMahon's Naval Junior ROTC program.

The program is unique in that "we're an academic class, and we're also an extracurricular activity," said Killackey, who came on board five years ago after retiring as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He was joined in 2008 by Pascoe, who served in the Navy as a chief petty officer "on every ship from frigates to aircraft carriers."

NJROTC cadets take a class in naval science and history. It meets once a day like other subjects and is graded. But they have other responsibilities beyond homework. The cadets perform community service, topping 700 hours in that area in each of the past three years. "I don't know of any other group that can say that," Killackey said.

Once a week, the students attend school in uniform, something that might not be "cool" among teenagers. "Kids join not because it's easy, but because they know it's good for them," Killackey said. "Cadets are held to a higher standard."

The program's history is filled with stories of kids whose lives were redirected in a positive direction after joining. Killackey and Pascoe cite their work in the military as helping them work with their charges. "It isn't a big leap going from 19- and 20-year-old sailors to high-schoolers," Pascoe said.

"We're teaching Life 101," Killackey agreed. "We're teachers, counselors, and sometimes confidants. Our goal is to turn out better people, in every aspect."

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