May 17, 2006
Parents, educators, and students in Mattituck who've been waiting anxiously for word on the future of the endangered Naval Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps satellite program can breathe a sigh of relief — for now.
Congressman Tim Bishop announced an initial victory last week for the NJROTC, after he made a strategic move that spelled safety for the program, at least for the next year.
Bishop inserted protective language into the Defense Authorization Bill, which passed in the House of Representatives last week, to safeguard the beleaguered satellite program in Mattituck.
For over 30 years, Southold schools have operated a NJROTC program with a satellite program in Mattituck and Greenport. In 2001, the Navy General Counsel's office issued a ruling that withdrew support for the operation of NJROTC satellite programs throughout the country.
Once word of the possible closure was announced, the community cried out in protest. Students with full schedules, they said, might not be able to travel by bus to the host NJROTC program in Southold, forcing them to drop out. Others questioned the cost of busing.
At a recent town hall meeting in Mattituck, North Fork residents submitted a petition with approximately 1000 signatures requesting the congressman's support. Less than a month later, Bishop arranged a meeting at the Pentagon at which he hand-delivered the petition to a senior official. Despite those efforts, the Department of Navy turned down a request for a waiver.
Bishop continued to fight for their program.
"I am proud to fight for the cadets and families of the NJROTC program, and I will be pleased if we can keep this important program," Bishop said. "I will see this through to the end."
Bishop's provision requires a review of the legal status for operating JROTC programs. Specifically, the Secretary of Defense will conduct a review of the 1976 legal opinion on which current satellite school JROTC operations are based. Congress also directed the Secretary to consider allowing units such as the NJROTC in Mattituck to continue operating.
Educators and parents reacted to Bishop's news: "I'm absolutely ecstatic," said James McKenna, superintendent of the Mattituck-Cutchogue school district.
Chris Gallagher, superintendent of the Southold school district, thanked the congressman: "He fought the good fight, and it seems like a winning fight."
Cutchogue resident Sue Stype, who has two children in the NJROTC program, was thrilled that the program would remain in place for at least another year.
Following a review, the Secretary will submit a report to the House and Senate no later than 180 days after the Defense bill is enacted. In addition, the Mattituck/Southold arrangement is granted conditional authority to operate until 180 days past the issuance of the defense department report, granting the Mattituck NJROTC the ability to continue current operations for a year following adoption of the bill.
Bishop plans to urge the Senate to have similar language inserted into their version of the bill so the satellite program can survive: "If it isn't broke, don't fix it," he said.