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ROTC Day Speakers Give Insight into Military Leadership

1st Lt. Owayne Mairs, commander of the Florida Army National Guard’s 806th Marine Police Unit in Fort Pierce, offered practical advice about leadership to the more than 150 high school JROTC students in attendance at Palm Beach Atlantic University on Wednesday.

"The best leaders lead by example," said Mairs, who was deployed to Afghanistan for a year in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

He also talked with the students, who were there for the University’s annual ROTC Leadership Conference, about three distinct leadership styles: authoritative, participatory and delegatory. No leader can be all three, he said, “but the best leaders use different aspects of all three.”

Mairs knows a thing or two about leadership. As a member of the Provisional Reconstruction Team, charged with training and rebuilding projects as well as support for Afghanistan’s first democratic election, he was awarded the Army Commendation Medal for excellence as well as General Kensinger’s Coin of Excellence.

Like Mairs, military journalist Liesl Marelli is familiar with leadership roles. Marelli, an Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran who served in the U.S. Army for nine years as a public affairs specialist, engagement officer and human resources specialist, talked to the students about how her job gave her the chance to be the first woman allowed into many places.

She also talked about how she ended up telling the story of a fellow military photojournalist who was blinded while serving in Afghanistan. “It could have been me. It could have been any of us,” she said.

Marelli is a New Jersey native who resides in West Palm Beach and used her military experience in public affairs to launch Girona Consulting, a photography, writing and design business.

She enlisted in the Army after 9/11. During her time in the military, she would sometimes shoot as many as 800 photos a day, she said. The best photos would be released to the news media for use in their stories.

Other speakers talked to the students about making sound choices now, while they’re still in high school.

"We are looking for the well-rounded individual to build into the future leaders of this nation," said Lt. Col Son P. Vo of the Army ROTC program at Florida International University.

The students in attendance came from as far away as Broward County, Southwest Florida and the Treasure Coast. This year’s attendance was the largest since the conference began.

Cassie Wombacker, 16, a junior in the JROTC program at Fort Pierce Westwood High School, said she appreciated what the speakers had to say. “It wasn’t just about ROTC. It was about education in general,” she said.

"It was very informative," agreed Maynali Gamez, 15, a sophomore in Fort Pierce Westwood’s JROTC. "There are more opportunities out there than I thought there were."

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