North Allegheny’s ROTC cadets honor veterans’ service, sacrifice

From organizing food drives to managing parking at community events, members of the North Allegheny High School’s Air Force Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps thrive on community service.

On Veterans Day, their goal was to honor the service and sacrifice of the nation’s many veterans.

“Service members do so much for this country and deserve at least one day to be recognized,” said AFJROTC student representative Josie Olmstead.

They were set to march in the annual Pittsburgh Veterans Day parade on Nov. 11, leading the NA high school band.

North Allegheny AFJROTC has participated in the parade several times over the years, said North Allegheny AFJROTC instructor Don Accamando. The NA Tiger Marching Band has marched in the Downtown parade for more than 20 years, according to Brandi Smith, NA public relations specialist.

The cadets also planned to attend the 23rd Annual Veterans Day Breakfast at Duquesne University, presented by the Veterans Leadership Program, to hear guest speaker and Pittsburgh resident Eric McElvenny, who served as a U.S. Marine Corps infantry officer.

Accamando, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, was to serve as the emcee for the breakfast, a role he filled during his 11-year tenure at Duquesne University as the director of the Office for Military and Veteran Students.

This is a valuable learning experience for the AFJROTC cadets to hear from veterans like McElvenny, who selflessly dedicate their lives to support and defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic, Accamando said.

“It’s important to provide time during our busy lives to reflect and give blessings for our freedom and to honor those who voluntarily step forward to protect them,” said Accamando, who joined the District this year teaching aerospace science and leadership.

McElvenny provides a great model on how anything is possible “with the right attitude and effort,” said Accamando.

After graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy, McElvenny was deployed three times. On his final tour in Afghanistan, he stepped on an improvised explosive device resulting in the amputation of his right leg below the knee. After a long road to healing, he was determined to race in the Ironman Triathlon. He has participated in the grueling race eight times, encouraging others with his story.

His inspirational message is important for everyone to hear, especially now during the pandemic, Accamando said.

“He consistently returns to his love of country in spite of everything that happened to him,” said Accamando.

Olmstead has been in the JROTC program for three years and said it’s an honor to pay tribute to McElvenny and other veterans.

The North Allegheny AFJROTC is open to North Allegheny students in ninth through 12 grade. Olmstead says the program builds character, teaches life skills and fosters responsibility. It’s also a great place to meet people who share similar values. She said she met some of her best friends in the program. There are 85 cadets, she said.

JROTC helps with parking at football games or local events like McCandless Days. Most recently cadets assisted parking at North Allegheny’s recent Trick or Trot. They also conduct food drives or participate in other charitable efforts.

And it is an impressive addition to one’s resume when applying for college or anywhere else, said Olmstead, 16.

Retired Chief Master Sgt. Terry Speer has been an instructor with the North Allegheny AFJROTC program for six years. Prior to that he was at Plum School District for eight.

He said a broad spectrum of students join the program. And just because they join, doesn’t mean they are planning on a military career after they graduate.

“We produce graduates from this program that go off and do all types of great things in the civilian world,” Speer said.

The purpose and overall mission of the program is to develop a dedicated person who will serve their community and nation, said Speer, who teaches aerospace science and leadership.

“I’m proud of the cadets that graduate from here,” said Speer.

Natalie Beneviat is a Trib Total Media contributing writer.

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