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Commander, Naval Air Force Atlantic

CNAL Returns to JROTC Flight Academy Graduation at ECSU

by Jennifer Cragg, Naval Air Force Atlantic Public Affairs
08 August 2023 Rear Adm. John Meier, Commander, Naval Air Force Atlantic, returned for a second year to attend the graduation of 16 Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) high school students in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, July 31.

The 16 high school students spent most of the summer attending flight school to graduate from an eight-week Flight Academy offered at Elizabeth City State University (ECSU). There are 24 universities that participate in the JROTC scholarship program that recognizes a unique collaboration with the Department of Navy and Air Force to help address the nation’s pilot shortage.

Meier spoke during the luncheon and personally congratulated each of the students for completing the highly competitive and impressive program while sharing life lessons learned throughout his naval career.

“The three lessons that I have learned during my naval career is always to treat people with respect and dignity; to pursue passion with an eye toward perfection, looking for ways you can always improve; and to choose your life’s path with passion,” Meier said, who encouraged the students to be inquisitive about their future and to learn the latest trends in technology.

Meier shared his path to naval aviation and thanked the parents, caregivers and teachers for supporting the students during the eight-week learning opportunity.

ECSU Chancellor, Dr. Karrie Dixon thanked Meier for spending time with this year’s graduates.

“Thank you, Rear Adm. John Meier, for joining us yet again this summer for this special occasion,” Dixon said, adding that today’s speaking engagement was “Rear Adm. Meier’s last public appearance before retirement.”

On Aug. 17, Meier will be relieved by Rear Adm. Doug Verissimo during a change of command ceremony on board USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69). Meier, who will retire after 37 years of service in the Navy, had spearheaded efforts to bring awareness to careers in naval aviation.

Understanding the need to spread awareness of careers in aviation was Dr. Kuldeep Rawat, Dean School of Science, Aviation, Health, and Technology, who helped launch the Flight Academy concept and discussed the hard work and discipline by the students to complete this program.

“These students are very focused and dedicated because they know why they are here, whether representing the Navy, Marine Corps, or Air Force, by completing this program, they have a leg up over others who have not chosen this path,” said Rawat.

The ECSU private pilot’s license program was launched in 2020 by the U.S. Air Force. The Department of Navy launched their JROTC Flight Academy in 2021 and added ECSU in 2022.  Lt. Olivia Barrau, who serves as the Commander, Naval Air Forces (CNAF) Flight Academy Program Manager and the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion operations officer has assisted JROTC students in connecting with commissioning programs like ROTC and Service Academies.

“Today is important because it is all about celebrating CNAF cadets. This accomplishment can lead them towards aviation as a future career option,” Barrau said, who added that 78% of CNAF Flight Academy alumni are directly affiliated with military service now, primarily through commissioning programs. “This is a stepping stone to the next part of the adventure and hopefully becoming naval aviators.”

The Naval JROTC Flight Academy is a partnership between CNAF and the Naval STEM Coordination Office, located at the Office of Naval Research, which oversees investments in science, technology, engineering and math education and outreach.  

“Deliberate investments in programs like the Flight Academy directly aligns with the Naval STEM mission to shape a generation of talent prepared for future global challenges,” said Sandy Landsberg, Naval STEM Coordination Office executive.  “It’s awesome to see the diversity in the Navy and Marine Corps participants, as it not only addresses the nation’s pilot shortage, but also the lack of diversity in it”.

One student who has attained that leg up is Isabella Hauri of Peoria, Illinois. Her family decided to vacation and meet in Elizabeth City to celebrate her graduation and accomplishment.

“We are super proud of her; she saw the opportunity and sacrificed her summer for something that she knew nothing about, completed the program, and came out on the other side,” said Isabella’s father, Roger Hauri. “She is now seriously thinking about aviation as a career possibility.”

Isabella’s mother, Heather, saw the growth in her daughter by attending the aviation-centric program.

“She has never learned so much in such a short time,” Heather said.

Retired Air Force Master Sgt. Paul Brown, who serves as the JROTC instructor at Cane Bay High School in Summerville, South Carolina, made the six-hour drive to celebrate one of his cadets who graduated from the program.

“When our cadets earn their pilot’s license, it serves as very good recruiting for our program,” Brown said, who retired from the U.S. Air Force after 22 years in information management and human resource management. “A goal of our high school is to produce a lot of pilots.”

Another cadet who realized her potential and future possibilities is Air Force Cadet Col. Sydney Rothas, who explained the benefit of attending this program.

“[This program is about] having the opportunity to get your first step in aviation without distraction,” Rothas said.

Attending ECSU for that aviation experience inspired Air Force Cadet Col. Michael Reedy, who added that most of his days were spent flying.

“The opportunity to fly twice a day; I completed 60 hours in eight weeks,” Reedy said.

For Cadet Senior Master Sgt. Audrey Groger, her interest in the Flight Academy was piqued by family members who served, such as her grandmother, a Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) who served during World War II, and a grandfather who fought during the Korean War.

“I liked being able to fly twice a day and gaining confidence in flying,” Groger said.

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