“Leadership excellence” is the motto of the US Army Cadet Command’s Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program. The cadets who serve in the Red Storm Battalion, St. John’s University’s ROTC program, have proven themselves as leaders and role models for their peers as they quickly sprang into action when the COVID-19 pandemic struck New York State. Reflecting the University’s mission of service, a number of current cadets are frontline responders and work as emergency medical technicians, firefighters, police officers, and with the US Army National Guard.
Senior Conor Lynch, a Homeland Security major, works for Northwell Health as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) for the New York City 911 system, and as an EMT for the City of Glen Cove Emergency Medical Services. A three-year veteran of the latter, Conor plans to continue until he receives his commission as a US Army officer following graduation.
For Conor, who is an Eagle Scout, the lasting impact of this crisis will be how he rose to the challenge. “I use all of the tools at my disposal to help in the most productive way I can. I continue to try and make a positive impact in every encounter I have with my patients.”
Junior William J. Ridout, a Business Administration major, volunteers with the Wallkill Hook, Ladder, and Hose Company 64 volunteer fire department in his hometown of Wallkill, NY. “Initially I chose to do this because I live across from the firehouse; after years of seeing the trucks respond to calls, I knew I wanted to be involved,” he recalled.
When the pandemic first struck in early March, the fire department assisted the local ambulance service with more serious calls, as they were having difficulty fielding the increased volume. One of the happier tasks in which William participates are the “birthday parades,” where children celebrating a birthday are delighted to watch their friends and family drive by their home with signs and balloons, followed by a fire truck with lights and sirens heralding their special day.
William, also an Eagle Scout, is proud to be part of this mission. “I am just here to help people. A good Boy Scout does his good turn once a day, with a smile, and without seeking reward or fame.”
Junior and Biology major Abdelmohsen Mossolem works at an urgent care facility in his community of Albertson, NY, and serves as a volunteer firefighter with the Albertson Hook & Ladder, Engine & Hose Co. No. 1, Inc. “The lessons I learn there overlap with those I learn at ROTC. I want to help as many people as I can, because giving back to the community you grew up in is very important to me. I saw the need for support and for hope during this very trying time and jumped at the opportunity.”
Junior Lenny Jaramillo, also a Biology major, was mobilized with the 719th Composite Truck Company of the New York Army National Guard to deliver medical supplies throughout New York. “At the beginning, the workload was pretty intense, and we drove around the clock from Buffalo to New York City,” he said. “I had the opportunity to help in a very practical way; it feels good to know your work makes a difference in people’s lives.”
Like every department within St. John’s, ROTC transitioned to online platforms for instruction, while students have maintained their commitment to physical and mental fitness while under quarantine. “Once we received notification of the transition to remote learning, we immediately turned to digital platforms to conduct classes,” said Eric P. Fekete, Lieutenant Colonel, Professor of Military Science, St. John’s University Army ROTC.
Labs were more of a challenge, Lt. Col. Fekete noted. “Since we were not able to conduct practical exercises, we utilized the Webex platform to keep cadets connected with the doctrinal knowledge required to perform tasks.” Once the campuses reopen, they will quickly translate the institutional knowledge they have gleaned to practical application.
MSIII cadets (students who have completed their junior year) normally attend Advanced Camp at Ft. Knox, KY, in the summer. While they await a decision, Lt. Col. Fekete said the ROTC program has devised a strategy using an online gaming platform to replicate real-world exercises cadets would encounter at Advanced Camp.
“This will allow us to keep the class engaged and put their institutional learning to the test in a virtual setting. The tactics, techniques, and analytical skills they learn at Advanced Camp translate seamlessly to the gaming environment. If they are given the opportunity to attend camp, I have no doubt they will be successful.,” Lt. Fekete observed, adding, “Nothing can replace the camaraderie of training together, and we’re all looking forward to the day we can resume that mission.”