Serving Communities While Training to Serve the Country

“When I lead the NROTC at Penn, I don’t ask what school a student is from,” says Marine Corps Col. Kenneth DeTreux, the commanding officer of the Philadelphia Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps (NROTC) Consortium.

“All the students are members of the University of Pennsylvania NROTC Battalion,” he continues. “There’s no distinction. There’s a great relationship between the schools and the students.”

The Consortium is an umbrella organization that brings together students from Penn, Temple, and Drexel; Villanova is also part of the Consortium and serves as a stand-alone host university. Following four years of NROTC training and graduation from their respective schools, the students in the Consortium will earn a commission in either the United States Navy or U.S. Marine Corps.

NROTC student carrying another over his shoulder

Strength training, agility, and endurance are part of the physical fitness standards set forth by the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps. NROTC Midshipmen must meet or exceed these qualifications before and after they become military officers.

DeTreux, a Temple alumnus who came through Penn’s NROTC program 30 years ago, says being a joint consortium enhances the quality of a program and adds to a robust legacy that dates back to 1941.

By teaching time management, discipline, accountability, and responsibility, the NROTC battalion helps to strengthen the officers-to-be throughout their college years, DeTreux says, adding that they embrace service to the nation as well as the community.

“There are fantastic young men and women in this program,” says DeTreux, who adds the future Navy and Marine Corps leaders often exceed his expectations. “They really come in with a sense of service.”

Battalion standing in formation on the gymnasium floor

The existing NROTC battalion stands in formation and looks on, as its newest members, represented in Kilo Company, march forward during the Fall Review ceremony.

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As a part of their community service activities, the entire NROTC battalion participates in the annual 9/11 Hero Runs in Doylestown, Pa. and Philadelphia that are organized by the Travis Manion Foundation, an organization that honors Marine 1st Lt. Travis Manion, who died while trying to save his wounded teammates during a sniper attack in 2007. Before leaving for his second tour in Iraq, Manion asked “If not me, then who?,” a reminder for each officer-in-training to maintain integrity, live with character, and to put others’ interests ahead of their own.

Grandmother hugging NROTC student with family

Wharton student Antonio Paladino hugs his grandmother, Angel Paladino, during NROTC’s Fall Review, which welcomes families to observe a special occasion: when members of Kilo Company are officially sworn in as Midshipmen in the NROTC battalion.

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One student who understands that sentiment is Midshipman First Class Colin Luzzi, a senior systems science and engineering major in the School of Engineering and Applied Science, who will earn his commission as an officer in the U.S. Navy once he graduates in May 2018.

Luzzi, who hails from Weston, Mass., serves as the Battalion Operations Officer. That means he’s the third-in-command of the battalion.

two men do rescue exercise training in a field

Strength and agility training often involves simulated “rescue operations” to prepare future military officers for the conditions that they may be faced with in real life as they transition to active duty.

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“Community service is stressed within the NROTC unit because it cultivates that sense of service and that sense of being a part of something that’s more important than one’s own success,” Luzzi explains. “If you realize the value of doing something before you even do it, that’s powerful. It’s for a greater good.”

When he isn’t studying, leading the Tau Beta Pi Engineering Honor Society as its president, working out during physical readiness training, or ironing uniforms to prepare for inspection, Luzzi carries out one intangible general order: the spirit of service in the community and throughout the greater Philadelphia area.

As a part of the TRIO Veterans Upward Bound program at Penn, on weekends Luzzi tutors veterans in physics and math. A free, non-credited, non-profit, pre-college program, Veterans Upward Bound prepares eligible veterans to get into, succeed in, and graduate from college by emulating the college experience.

NROTC battalion standing at attention in three rows

Members of the NROTC battalion, which boasts a legacy dating back more than 75 years, proudly stand at “attention,” awaiting the commencement of the 2017 Fall Review ceremony.

Each year, about 160 veterans from Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, Camden, and Philadelphia counties go through the Veterans Upward Bound program at Penn, which is federally funded through a U.S. Department of Education grant.

Through Beat The Streets Philadelphia, which fosters the holistic character development of 75 selected, promising student athletes through wrestling programs across the city, Luzzi and his fellow officers-in-training tutor and mentor underserved youth.

Community service is stressed within the NROTC unit because it cultivates that sense of service and that sense of being a part of something that’s more important than one’s own success.

Midshipman First Class Colin Luzzi, a senior systems science and engineering major in the School of Engineering and Applied Science

Midshipmen from the NROTC battalion also volunteer at the Veterans Administration hospital and with the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

Luzzi says juggling all of these obligations plus mentoring underclassmen in the battalion contributes to his development as a future leader.

“It has made me learn how to manage my time and it has changed my perspective,” Luzzi explains. “It has gone from ‘academics are tough’ to ‘academics are something that you can handle in addition to other responsibilities.’”

Homepage photo: The NROTC Midshipmen at the University of Pennsylvania line up smartly in formation.

Photo at top: Morning physical training sessions begin at “zero dark thirty” for the men and women who will become officers in the United States Navy and U.S. Marine Corps after completing their four years of college.

  • Text by: Jill DiSanto
  • Photos by: Eric Sucar
  • Video by: Denise Henhoeffer