For the past two semesters, I’ve sat across Aileen Perez (‘20) during chemistry. With her mellow stature and kind voice raised only to answer a question she was asked, it was easy to deem her as timid, even nervous by nature. So you can imagine how taken aback I was to find out she was an important leader figure in the ROTC program
ROTC is an acronym that stands for “Reserve Officers’ Training Corps” and is a program offered at McMahon that works toward aiding their students to develop abilities and attitudes that help make them academically successful junior officers.
Many assume ROTC is a program only for learning naval terms and exclusively for army enthusiasts, but the central idea of leadership and team building that drew Perez in successfully paints the program as something more complex than first impressions.
Perez first found out about ROTC during a middle school event in which she saw McMahon Cadets perform one of their drills.
“...I just saw them doing movements, and I’m like ‘oh that’s cool, I wanna do that,’” said Perez.
In her freshman year, the ROTC program was nothing more than another period in the day. While it was interesting, she lacked a passion for it. However after spending time at a boot camp called ‘Basic Leadership Training’ (BLT) the idea of being apart of a group lit a fire in her.
“When I was on the ground doing push ups with everyone, I was like ‘...this is what a team is.’ ROTC is mainly about being a team and having a bond,” Perez reminisces fondly.
The importance of cultivating a bond is something she holds very close to her heart and is a factor in her ability to step outside of her box.
“I never had many friends, so learning how to have that bond with people is really good… They’re like my second family,” said Perez.
Through creating meaningful friendships from spending many after school hours with other cadets, as well as the the encouragement from her Commanders, Perez started to push herself outside her comfort zone.
“I’ve always said: ‘in life being quiet presents a challenge for you, and so if you try to overcome that, it will help you in life…’ And so she’s really worked consciously to be more confident and outspoken, and she’s done a good job in doing that,” said Chief David Pascoe, who teaches the first year ROTC cadets and can be credited as an a huge encouragement to Perez for his consistent affirmation all these years.
End of sophomore year, Perez reaped the benefits of venturing outside comfort when she was chosen by Chief David Pascoe and Colonel Robert Killackey as a Drill Commander, which requires her to lead a 9-10 person team through 60-70 steps of a drill in a competitive drill situation.
“It’s amazing. I mean, her voice and her command, and again this isn’t her natural state, but she knows there are times where she has to do it, and she can,” said Pascoe.
Now as a junior, Perez is continuing to challenge her comfort zone. Just this past year on December 22, 2018, Perez led her team to victory during a drill meet in Mattituck High School, placing third place.
She continues to carry herself as an example of how overcoming your greatest fears is possible and breeds it victories.