Lieutenant Commander U.S. Navy (retired) Mike Ernst is a member of a dying breed. He is a high school teacher/coach.
A common misconception about teacher/coaches is that they devote more time to one endeavor than they do to the other. Ernst destroys that concept. He and Chief Petty Officer Bob Richardson, U.S. Navy-retired, have turned a moribund unit into a nationally acclaimed and award winning unit.
Ernst and Richardson teach the cadets in the Ramona High NJROTC unit to serve and to do community service. They not only teach they provide excellent examples. Richardson makes sure that the spirit tunnel is put up and taken down at home football games. His sons participated in other extracurricular activities. He also volunteers as a time keeper for home football games and volunteers at track meets and other adjunct duties at RHS. CPO Richardson is also heavily involved in Scouting and other community activities.
Ernst at first volunteered as a football coach and did such a good job that he was put on the payroll. He has earned his money. He has coached two junior varsity league championship teams; one in the Valley League and another in the Palomar League. He has won over 100 junior varsity baseball games since 2007, and last season his Palomar League champions went 22-3.
Ernst and Richardson motivate their cadets to get involved in community service and in veterans’ activities.
Last year Cadet Deanna Lasley was the unit’s information officer and submitted several articles to the
- One article explained how the unit was involved in the Reach Across America program. Members of the unit went to Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery and placed a wreath on the grave of one of Ramona’s fallen heroes, Ramon Ojeda, as a part of Veterans Day observance. The article and a picture were published in the
- A copy of the article reached the desk of the area commander in San Diego and he was so impressed that he forwarded it to the national headquarters of NJROTC in Pensacola, Fla. From there the article was forwarded to the secretary of Veterans Affairs.
The office of Veterans Affairs decided that it would invite Lasley and two other members of Ramona’s NJROTC to the Veterans Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C., where the President of the United States will place a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. So on Nov. 11, Cadets Lasley, Darien Hightower and Aaron Paris will be in uniform at The Garden of Stone honoring our fallen heroes as representatives of Ramona High School’s NJROTC.
Because three of the unit’s highest ranking cadets will be in the nation’s capitol, Ernst decided to stage his annual Veterans Day program a week early.
Last Saturday the unit staged a ceremony that was educational, motivational and emotional. The theme of the evening was the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.
A replica of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was on display in the RHS gym and a watch was set by the Ramona NJROTC unit. The history of the tomb was explained with a multimedia presentation. The names of all of Ramona’s fallen heroes were read and a wreath was placed as taps was played by Eddie Bacorn, a Vietnam veteran, cadet Hightower and this reporter. Erich Benndorf then gave an inspiring slide show presentation about the Civil War. During the show, Bill Peck did an excellent representation of Abraham Lincoln delivering the Gettysburg Address.
Iwo Jima veteran and survivor, Staff Sergeant Douglas Otto Barnett USMC, then gave a brief but emotional speech about his experience in the battle and about re-visiting the island for the 50th and 60th anniversaries of the battle. The unit then did a reenactment of the raising of the flag at Iwo Jima by the four marines and a Navy corpsman.
Barnett used some humor in his speech when he was asked what wave he was in at Iwo Jima.
“I don’t know what wave I was in, but there was nobody in front of me,” he said. Barnett was in the first wave and was one of the last to leave the island 36 days later.
A presentation about Medal of Honor Recipient Michael Monsoor, a Navy SEAL, was given, and Vietnam veteran CPO Tony Dunkailo gave a reading about what veterans are and what they have done.
Gunnery Sergeant Kenneth Serfass conducted the Ramona Town Band as they played the songs of all of the services and other patriotic songs.
The Ramona High NJROTC’s Veterans Day program rivals the Memorial Day Service in Ramona as a patriotic must. It should be on every patriotic Ramonans’ calendar for next year. It you go, bring a handkerchief.
God Bless America.