From left, Javier Velasquez poses with East River High School Junior ROTC cadets Serenity Collins, Jaymarie Acevedo, Cristina Gonzalez and Gianna Celeste.

In 2015, Javier Velasquez, Supervisor of Power Plant Maintenance, thought it would be “cool” if high school Junior ROTC cadets would participate in a Veterans Day flag-raising ceremony at Stanton Energy Center (SEC).

With one phone call, Velasquez, a Navy veteran, enlisted the support of East River High School’s Junior ROTC battalion led by Steven Celeste, a retired Army major. Celeste was not only happy to send an honor guard, but he saw the visit as an opportunity for his cadets to see the inner workings of a power plant. Perhaps a tour of the facility would elevate their interests in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education.

Thus, a partnership was sealed, and for six years now East River Junior ROTC has provided a four-member honor guard to commemorate Veterans Day at SEC, followed by a Velasquez leading cadets on a tour of the power plant. The relationship also has led East River’s Junior ROTC program to create the OUC Award for Engineering Excellence, which Celeste presents to a deserving cadet at the battalion’s spring banquet.

“I thought it would be cool to have people in uniform from a local junior ROTC program at our flag ceremony,” said Velasquez, explaining the impetus for the partnership. “It’s good to see there are young people who are interested in serving their country and show an interest in STEM fields.”

The ceremony includes presenting a veteran on the power plant team with a tri-folded U.S. flag in a triangle-shaped display case. That honor went to Army veteran Luiz Muniz, Plant Operator. Click here to watch the Nov. 11, 2020, ceremony at Stanton.

Celeste said the cadets chosen for the honor guard detail look forward to the plant tour. “The most scenic stop is when they get up on the roof across from the cooling towers,” he said.

Unfortunately, he added, he and his cadets couldn’t visit SEC’s control room this year because of COVID-19 safeguards protecting employees in the secured area.

“That’s always the highlight of the tour,” Celeste said of the control room. “It’s like something out of mission control at Cape Kennedy. That’s usually where the kids have the most questions.”

East River High School’s Junior ROTC program has been involved in Stanton Energy Center’s Veterans Day flag-raising ceremony since 2015.