CRHS NJROTC Class of 2020

The 2019-20 Crystal River High School Navy Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps.

Chief Warrant Officer 5 Elizabeth Rivera and her company of Crystal River High School Navy JROTC cadets had a mission this school year of winning the highest honor they could.

They did just that on Friday, May 8, earning the title of a Distinguished Unit for their overall successes on the parade grounds, shooting ranges, in the classrooms and neighborhoods.

Last school year, the U.S. Navy headquarters in Pensacola bestowed Crystal River High’s Navy Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps with the Unit Achievement Award, the second-best title, which led to Rivera’s objective for this year.

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“My goal this year was to win the Distinguished Unit Award,” said Rivera, who’s on her third year commanding aspiring military officers out of the high school. “I’ve done my job…Next is to just keep maintaining or exceeding our goals.”

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By being distinguished, the high school’s NJROTC and its 102 cadets are in the top 15% of the 59 other NJROTC programs in Florida.

“It means all the hard work that was put into doing what we do,” Rivera said.

A highlight of the unit’s achievements was tallying 2,654 community service hours by participating in blood drives, school-improvement projects, recycling, roadside cleanups, nursing home visits, events and creating a haunted house in the Crystal River Mall.

“We do a a little bit of everything,” Rivera said. “Because we’re so small, we have so many things we try to do.”

Every other year, an inspector delves into the NJROTC program’s personnel, equipment, grades, service, drill participation and Rivera’s end-of-year report to score how well its running.

Rivera said the unit’s score raised the bar.

Cadets and at least 60 guests, including from local veteran organizations, went online Friday to watch a virtual ceremony, Rivera said.

Crystal River’s NJROTC will be mailed a Distinguished Unit pennant to hang on its guidon, which holds the unit’s other titles dating back to the ‘90s, Rivera said.

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Rivera said the last time the NJROTC program was named a distinguished unit was in 2003.

Cadets are also going to pick up a Distinguished Unit Ribbon to wear with pride on their chests.

With COVID-19 expected to impact next school year as well, Rivera said it will be tougher to get her cadets out to help their neighbors.

“We have to take it one day at a time because things have changed with our society,” she said. “We just have to find innovative ways to safely help the community.”

Contact Chronicle reporter Buster Thompson at 352-564-2916 or bthompson@chronicleonline.com.