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Cortney Heston (left), the outgoing Commanding Officer of Mooseheart's NJROTC, hands the commander's sword to incoming C.O. U-Conjay Nelson at the school's Change of Command ceremony on May 4.
U-Conjay Nelson (right), the incoming Commanding Officer of Mooseheart's NJROTC has the commander's insignia pinned onto her lapel by outgoing C.O. Cortney Heston and U.S. Navy Warrant Officer (Ret.) Rick Smith, who is the lead officer of Mooseheart's NJROTC program.
As part of the Change of Command Ceremony, the senior Class retires its guidon and hands the guidon to the incoming freshman platoon. Senior Daniel Tucker (left) hands the Class of 2016 guidon to current eighth-grader Quinn Hunt at the May 4 ceremony.
Mooseheart's student-officers during the 2012 NJROTC Change of Command Ceremony were, from left, James Ranum, Mason Rueger and Cortney Heston.
MOOSEHEART, May 10 - When the new Commanding Officer’s name is announced at Mooseheart's Naval Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (NJROTC) Change of Command ceremonies, the new C.O. is requested to fall out of formation and to meet the outgoing C.O. by the stage in front of the gathered dignitaries.
It is here that the transfer of command takes place, with the outgoing C.O. handing over the ceremonial sword and affixing insignia on the incoming C.O.’s lapel. It is a serious event and is usually done with full military seriousness.
But on Friday afternoon, May 4, everyone at Mooseheart knew there was no way U-Conjay Nelson was going to be able to make that walk from the formation to the stage without smiling at least once.
It is certainly not that Nelson isn’t a serious person or doesn’t take NJROTC seriously. But Nelson is also one of the sunniest members of the Class of 2013. And she did not complete her walk without smiling. She did turn serious for the formal Change of Command. But after the ceremony, she was smiling again. Among those pleased with the manner of the change was U.S. Navy Warrant Officer (Ret.) Rick Smith, who is the lead officer of Mooseheart’s NJROTC program
“When we were selecting this year, we checked with all the teachers, Family Teachers, Superintendent of Education (Gary) Urwiler and really everyone we spoke with, and there wasn’t one person who had anything negative to say about (Nelson),” Smith said.
While some Mooseheart students are admittedly indifferent to their compulsory NJROTC participation, and gain interest through their years in the program, Smith said Nelson has always been “solid in the program.” She has held leadership positions within the Class of 2013 platoon throughout her high school career.
“I think she’s mature for her age,” Smith said. “She is always right on the money doing whatever you ask of her.”
After the ceremony, among those smiling near Nelson was outgoing C.O. Cortney Heston, who will graduate from Mooseheart on June 2.
“I wanted her to get it so badly,” Heston said. “I wanted her to have command. I was so happy when I found out.”
Nelson said she found out by accident that she was going lead Mooseheart’s corps in 2012-13.
“They gave us the sheet with the commands for the ceremony and I saw my name there, and it was supposed to be blocked out,” Nelson said. “I felt accomplishment but also nervous because now I have everybody looking at me.”
“It means a lot,” Nelson said. “I grew up in a family where the military wasn’t looked on as a good thing. Coming to ROTC and being in it has allowed me to see it in a whole better light and in a different way.”
Smith and other NJROTC leaders routinely emphasize that the goal of the program is not to create members of the military. In Nelson’s case, however, the current plan is to head to the Army following her 2013 graduation, giving an added importance to the program’s curriculum.
Heston assumed command of the Mooseheart corps midway through the year, two weeks before the Feb. 10 Annual Military Inspection, one of the key points in the corps’ calendar.
“It was fun while I had it,” Heston said. “It was a lot of responsibility, but it was fun. Handing it over, I was thinking about how graduation is right around the corner and it is all almost over. This is another steppingstone toward graduation.”
Smith said the manner with which Heston responded immediately after taking command showed the type of leader she is.
“I think at first, when she knew she had to step up, she was a little nervous about it,” Smith said. “But she stepped right up. She had two weeks notice before the AMI that she has going to be the commander and she stepped right in.”
Heston is heading to a technical college in Ohio this fall. Though she said she is not ruling out military service in her future, she said she has gained much through participation in the program.
“It has helped me discipline myself more,” Heston said. “It helped me with my structure. I am considering joining the military if college turns out to be not what I want. It is a factor.”
Since its founding, Mooseheart has operated a complete, accredited kindergarten-through-high-school academic program, plus art, music, vocational training and interscholastic sports. It is an extremely nurturing and student-tailored program, with an average student-teacher ratio of 12-1.
Mooseheart students who complete their studies with a 3.0 GPA or better (4.0=A) are eligible for up to five years of annually renewable scholarship funding, covering tuition, room and board in an amount comparable to that required for an in-state student at an Illinois public university.
Mooseheart is currently home to roughly 230 students, ranging in age from preschoolers to high school seniors. Applications for admission to Mooseheart are considered from any family whose children are, for whatever reason, lacking a stable home environment. Mooseheart boasts its own U.S. Post Office and a fully functioning branch of Fifth Third Bank.
In addition to Mooseheart, Moose International also supports Moosehaven, a 70-acre retirement community near Jacksonville, FL founded in 1922; and conducts more than $70 million worth of community service programs annually.