SANDY HOOK – While the story of the five MAST cadets who served as color guard in Virginia last week at the christening ceremony for the soon-to-be commissioned submarine New Jersey made national headlines and garnered well-deserved praise and congratulations from all over the country, there is yet another heartwarming and generous story to tell.
That is the story of two more outstanding cadets at the Marine Academy of Science and Technology, Jeremy Londono of Howell and Mae Woolley of Red Bank, both sophomores who have served with the color guard since first being selected for the added honor and obligations during their freshman year.
The duo were with the five color guard members who went to the ceremony for every day of their training. But they were not able to go to Virginia for the final event. They knew that was a strong possibility before they agreed to all the extra time and effort it involved.
Just like the five who conducted the color guard at the christening, the two also worked at home on their own as every cadet in the color guard does, to ensure perfection in holding the ceremonial rifles or flags; they flawlessly got down the precision and timing of their walk in keeping with the other four.
They did it all knowing that while they still regarded it as an honor, they knew they were alternates for the actual ceremony. They knew they would only be making the three day trip to Virginia and the honors of serving if one or two of the selected five was ill or had something that prevented him or her from participating.
“One thing that we have learned throughout everything surrounding Covid-19 is that plans can change in an instant. Even though we take so many precautions at MAST, there is always the fear that someone could have to suddenly quarantine because of possible exposure to the virus,” said Cdr. Tracie Smith-Yeoman, the retired Navy commander in charge of the NJROTC program at MAST. “We couldn’t take the chance of losing a color guard member at the last minute, so we had to be prepared with a backup plan – and that meant alternates.”
“Yes, Cadet Londono and I both had the option to refuse to serve as standby since we knew we would most likely not get to go,” said Wooley. “However, turning down this opportunity, even though I was only an alternate, never crossed my mind.”
“I don’t think that refusing the role was ever an option for me,” Londono added. “Even if I wasn’t going, it still goes a long way to give the team that extra security and reassurance up until the very end. Although ultimately disappointing for sure, my job as a standby was something that I was honored and grateful to assume.”
Both cadets also felt the decision on the final five selected as the color guard was fair. “Our color guard commanders evaluated us at every practice and selected the three other team members who were best at executing movements and were the best for the team. Though I was disappointed in myself that I did not make the final team, I think that the process was very fair,” Woolley said. Londono agreed, also adding that he realized the two juniors who are both color guard commanders had to go and he understood that as well.
“As for the sophomores, it just came down to who looked the best and had the most experience. It was not based on effort, passion or willingness, as each one of us was putting in well over one hundred percent. As the footage of the christening can attest, the selected team went out there and looked amazing. However,” the sophomore added, pointing out the number of hours every cadet puts into additional training and pride at MAST, “any variation of the final five would have looked just as good.”
While both sophomores admitted to feeling some personal disappointment in watching the Virginia ceremony on Facebook or the shipbuilder’s website, their disappointment was far overshadowed by their pride in their classmates.
“This was a momentous occasion with my friends showing what MAST is all about and capable of.” Woolley felt the same, saying she was “excited for my teammates. I was so happy they were given this opportunity and I know it meant a lot to them.” Rather than feeling defeated or depressed, Woolley said watching her fellow cadets and knowing they were fairly selected “did motivate me to work even harder.” Londono conceded that “it wasn’t easy to watch the ceremony,” knowing he was so close to being a part of it, but “that’s life, and I’m just glad I saw them do the amazing job they did.”
There were so many aspects of the ceremony that made it not only enjoyable and a matter of pride, but also historic and unforgettable to both cadets to watch. For Londono, it was the atmosphere and energy of the ceremony, the music and perfection of the band, and the several exceptional people who were guest speakers, including Congressmen and Governor Phil Murphy.
For Woolley, it was the naval traditions and the precision and planning perfection of civilian workers and military alike while the nation is still reeling from Covid restrictions. She particularly enjoyed seeing Dr. Susan DiMarco break the bottle of champagne over the submarine, and her poised and exuberant manner even when the broken bottle spilled foaming sparkling wine over her attire.
Both felt the entire ceremony was impressive and left both of them with a fervent desire to interact more with the newest Naval vessel to be named for their home state. Both said they would love to see the submarine in person and hope to once it is commissioned. Woolley, who is considering a career in the Navy, added she may someday find herself doing something relating to the submarine.
“Maybe I will even work on and serve on the USS New Jersey!”
While neither cadet could estimate the extra time, effort and energy each put into personal hours just for the possibility they might be called at the last minute to participate, including time to “look over my uniform and gear to ensure they looked perfect, things I needed to work on in my performance and movements, supplemental color guard practices specifically for the christening, and a lot of hard work and dedication,” both said they would do it again “without a doubt.” Opportunities like this are rare, Woolley said, “I think it’s important to make the most of the situation and learn from it.”
Both still look at their selection as alternates as an honor they appreciate and respect.
“I will always be eager and ready to contribute and help the color guard and MAST” said Londono. “I am beyond pleased that the MAST NJROTC was able to play a part in such an important event and show that we are one of the best units out there. I’m glad to have been a part of the team.”
“I don’t think you can find a more profound expression of ‘Commitment’ than what we saw out of the cadets selected as alternates,” said MAST Principal Earl Moore, citing the Navy’s Core Values of Honor, Courage and Commitment. “We’re all equally proud of every member of the Color Guard team chosen for the event, primaries and alternates alike.”