Spring Salute: 3 from Camden headed to Academy

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Capt. Richard Wester, commander of Coast Guard Sector Hampton Roads, announces that three cadets in Camden County High School's Junior Leadership Program — (l-r) Matthew Djigounian, Domenico Bulone and Bladen Harnly — have earned appointments to the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn., during the annual Spring Salute ceremony at Camden County High School, Friday. The event also pays tribute to Camden County Schools' five teachers of the year.


By Reggie Ponder
Staff Writer

Saturday, May 5, 2018

CAMDEN — Three cadets enrolled in the Coast Guard Junior Leadership Program at Camden County High School this year have received appointments to attend the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn.

Appointed to the academy for the Class of 2022 were Domenico Bulone and Bladen Harnly. Appointed to the class of 2023 was Matthew Djigounian.

The JLP celebrated the academy appointments Friday as part of its Spring Salute. The salute also honored the Camden County Schools’ five teachers of the year for 2018.

Interviewed Friday, Bulone said earning the appointment to the Coast Guard Academy is fulfillment of a goal. His father is in the Coast Guard and he grew up wanting to attend the Coast Guard Academy.

“It was always the academy,” Bulone said.

The Coast Guard Academy is starting a new major in cyber-security with the Class of 2022 and Bulone hopes to be in the first group of cyber-security majors.

Dijigounian similarly grew up with connections to the Coast Guard. His father was the air traffic control manager at Air Station Elizabeth City and he grew up around airplanes.

It was in the JLP at Camden High School, however, that he learned about the Coast Guard Academy and became interested in attending college there. Djigounian said his dream is to become a Coast Guard pilot and fly search and rescue missions.

Harnly said he also learned about the academy through Camden High’s JLP. The son of teachers in the local schools, Harnly joined JLP in the ninth-grade. He describes it as an excellent program.

Harnly plans to study government at the academy and is interested in commanding a Coast Guard cutter.

Bulone, Djigounian and Harnly all said the JLP “absolutely” was a key to obtaining their academy appointments.

“Nothing has contributed more,” Harnly said of the JLP.

Capt. Richard Wester, commander of Coast Guard Sector Hampton Roads, was the special guest for the Spring Salute and presented the three academy appointments. Wester told the assembly, held on the school’s football field, that 10,000 students inquire about the Coast Guard Academy every year, most of those inquirers apply, but only 300 are appointed. There are no congressional appointments so the selection is based solely on merit, he said.

Wester said he has presented appointments at schools in Virginia with 1,000 or more students and they are thrilled to have one cadet appointed to the academy. For a school the size of Camden to have three in one year is great, he said.

“This is why we have the program,” Wester said, explaining that the JLP prepares students for leadership and has helped Bulone, Djigounian and Harnly earn appointments as Coast Guard Academy cadets.

The value of a four-year scholarship that Coast Guard Academy cadets are awarded is $400,000, Wester said.

Wester said the academy looks for students who excel academically but also have demonstrated leadership and a commitment to community service. He said some students believe they will make a strong impression by being in five or more clubs, for example, but the reality is that a stronger impression is created by strong leadership in one or two clubs.

The JLP is a good way for the Coast Guard to build ties with the community and it’s good for the cadets, Wester said.

“It is a very demanding program, though,” Wester said. “It’s not for everyone.”

Wester said civilians often wonder why the military spends so much time on drills. He said they accomplish three main purposes: building teamwork and discipline, reinforcing the military culture, and inspiring public confidence in the military.

The JLP students who received their appointments on Friday will likely be seeing a lot of Wester the next few years. That’s because he is transferring this summer to a new post as Commandant of Cadets at the Coast Guard Academy.

Camden County Schools Superintendent Joe Ferrell said that in his short time as superintendent he has learned very quickly that Camden’s JLP is a solid program.

“I’m very excited that we have three students accepted to the academy this year,” Ferrell said.

Ferrell said he also appreciates that the JLP recognized the Teacher of the Year honorees. The honorees included Lori Worthington of Camden Intermediate School, who was named Teacher of the Year for the Camden County Schools; Crystal Doran of Grandy Primary; Starr Binner of Camden Middle School; Stephanie Berkoben of Camden High School; and Angela Noblitt of Camden Early College.

The recognition shows the students respect their teachers, past and present, and appreciate the role they have played in helping get to where they are now, he said.