Caney Creek Senior Becomes Leader Through NJROTC

By: By Natalia Molina, Senior at Caney Creek High School Executive Editor of The Creek Compass
| Published 02/07/2024

Photo credit: Margarita Rangel, Senior at Caney Creek High School

CONROE, TX -- Sitting at his desk in Stephen Murphy’s U.S. history class, junior Cristian Mazariegos was surrounded by the silence filling the room. While everyone else worked, he sneakily pulled out his phone to check an email. His finger hovered over the screen that read “From: United States Naval Academy admissions.”

This was it. He clicked and scrolled.

“Congratulations” jumped at him. Feeling on top of the world, Cristian had just been accepted into the Naval Academy’s Summer Seminar.

In June, the now-senior Mazariegos traveled to Maryland for the Naval Academy’s six-day summer seminar.

“I thought to myself, ‘I’m just a kid from the middle of nowhere in Texas,’” he said. “You don’t see that type of opportunity, so I was very glad to be the first of many. I felt accomplished when I made it because if I managed to achieve this, imagine how many other people can, too.”

It all started his freshman year, when Mazariegos saw his brother – a senior at the time – become involved in the NJROTC program.

“He wasn’t accepting at first, then a few weeks later it really made an impact on him,” Mazariegos said. “The instructors weren’t necessarily trying to break him down, they were trying to build him up. They were trying to build confidence, giving him integrity, discipline and structure. So when I saw that in my older brother at a young age I thought, ‘That’s what I want to do, that’s what I want to be’. That was my source of inspiration, that’s where I grew the interest of joining the program.”

Growing up without a father, Mazariegos said he and his siblings never had a “strong male role model” around them.

“I was really insecure about my masculinity which was kind of stupid but I think that (NJROTC) really reinforced my security,” Mazariegos said.

Last year, Mazariegos began researching how he could get into college to pursue a career in the military as an officer. He could graduate college and go through officer-candidate school or go to a college with an ROTC program. One caught his attention: going to a service academy, which is a military based college.

“I dug deep and found out, ‘Hey I want to see what the Naval Academy is like’,” Mazariegos said. “It’s super competitive to go to the Naval Academy; you have to get a congressional nomination, for which you need letters of recommendation. You need a resume, competitive college entrance exam scores. It is an entire process.”

During the winter of his junior year, he received an email with information about the program, which introduces juniors considering attending service academies to what life there is like and also serves as a preliminary application for admissions senior year. With his mind set, Mazariegos applied.

“I waited four months for a response,” he said. “In April, I looked at my email and was excited when I saw I got accepted first pick, not waitlisted, but first pick.”

At the time, Mazariegos applied for “funsies” but never really pictured getting accepted. When he received his acceptance letter in the middle of class, he was beyond excited and scared. Although he was already confirmed as a selected candidate and held a reservation for his spot, Mazariegos still had to pay around $600.

“Being from around here, I don’t have that type of money or privilege,” Mazariegos said. “I wasn’t just going to tell my mom, ‘Hey mom can you lend me some cash to go to this?’ she didn’t even have an idea because I didn’t think I was going to get accepted.

Through the help of his instructor, Lt. Cmdr. Raleigh Stahl and Principal Dr. Terri Benson, a former Naval Academy student, Mazariegos searched to find a way to cover the fee. He applied for the Navy’s scholarship to travel to the Academy and got it.

“I was on a flight to Baltimore on the Navy’s dime,” he said. “I’m thankful to have Dr. Benson and my instructors Lt. Cmdr. Stahl and Chief Donald Arms for having my back in all of this.”

When he arrived, Mazariegos dove into a sea of hundreds of kids from all over the country. He couldn’t help but feel out of place.

“What I could gather was that a lot of them came from big money,” Mazariegos said. “Their parents were doctors, lawyers, college graduates and that type of stuff. You know, my mom isn’t a college graduate, she’s an immigrant from Guatemala. I thought about how these kids all had some sort of legacy to live up to and I’m just here, making the first step for my family.”

A day at the academy consisted of morning runs, exercises on the football field and other physical training. It also included attending academic lectures and workshops based on majors. The midshipmen, which are the students on active duty, led Mazariegos along with the other students through the activities around campus.

“It was beautiful,” he said. “The midshipmen made it a lot better since they have gone through this and experienced it and put in the work and effort to apply for the Naval Academy, get accepted and go through this training. Them just being there and sharing their experience with us felt affirming.”

The biggest takeaway according to Mazariegos, was taking a step toward leadership.

“They gave us a whole lecture on taking initiative and stepping up so that there is at least somebody in your community for others to look up to,” Mazariegos said. “The way I think about it is, ‘Who do we have to look up to around here?’ I don’t think there’s anybody here that gives me much inspiration or motivation.”

Although the seminar was a chance to see what the Academy lifestyle is like, Mazariegos said that it was more about focusing on achievement and putting his “mind into it” while also recognizing obstacles along the way.

“When I knew that, ‘Hey if I’m good for the Academy, imagine what else I’m good enough for?’ It made me realize that you really just got to take the risk,” he said. “Take the opportunity and seize the day.”

Now, as the NJROTC commanding officer, Mazariegos hopes to lead others on the path to achieving their goals.

“As much as I feel like I had an amazing time, I want others to have an amazing time too,” Mazariegos said. “I want them to have the opportunity to do what they want and reach out to grab all that they can."

But he wants to go back to the academy, this time as a student. One road bump is that all applicants must obtain an official nomination from a specific source. They aren’t easy to come by, but he got one from the House of Representatives.

After receiving a congressional nomination in December from Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas, Mazariegos was accepted to the Naval Academy. Crenshaw himself even congratulated him over the phone.

“I just couldn’t believe it,” he said. “I never thought it’d be that soon. I was led to believe that I’d hear back from admissions in April and I was just holding on till then, so it ended up being a neat Christmas gift.

His mom was unaware of the details of her son’s application process. When Mazariegos finally told her the news, she cried tears of joy.

“She knows that she’s sacrificed a lot and that I’ve put down a lot of work for this,” Mazariegos said. “She just knew that all the hard work paid off and that it wasn’t for nothing.

Mazariegos plans to attend the Naval Academy in the fall of 2024 and will be the first in his family to attend college.

“I felt really proud of myself that I managed to break the cycle,” he said. “It doesn’t necessarily matter where you come from, but it definitely feels good to know that among everyone else (at Summer Seminar), I was one of them (that got accepted).”

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