Ask Lt. Col. Peter McCarthy about his personal accomplishments as leader of the Riverhead Navy Junior Reserves Officers Training Corps and he’ll likely tell you about NJROTC members and their accomplishments rather than what he’s done to help get them there.
Lt. Col. McCarthy, an Island resident, prefers to deflect attention away from himself. A retired Marine, he learned long ago that what matters isn’t so much the success of an individual, but the group as a whole.
But when Riverhead NJROTC organizes this fall, it will do so for the first time in 12 years without Lt. Col. McCarthy, who is stepping down as the crew’s leader and will retire at the end of this school year.
“I feel like I have done everything I can with the program at this point,” he said. “The program is stable and successful and the second instructor here is outstanding. It is time for someone new and a little younger to come in and bring a different perspective.”
Lt. Col. McCarthy, who graduated from basic training in 1981 after earning a bachelor’s degree in economics from College of the Holy Cross, arrived in Riverhead after retiring from the Marines in 2003. By the time he came on board, the Riverhead High School program had gone through five or six instructors in just eight years.
“When I first started here I experienced a bit of culture shock,” Lt. Col. McCarthy said in an email. “Nothing like coming off active duty in the Marine Corps and heading into a public high school.”
In concert with Maj. Bill Grigonis of the Southold-Mattituck-Greenport NJROTC, Lt. Col. McCarthy organized the NJROTC’s Basic Leadership Training Camp, which gives new cadets the opportunity to spend three days at the 4-H camp in Riverhead at the beginning of the school year. There, they conduct team-building events and get a sense of what they can expect from the program.
By 2005, Riverhead’s NJROTC program had been named Most Improved Unit in an area that includes 57 schools from New York to Delaware. Just four years later, it finished in first place overall.
Nicholas Waldron, current cadet commander of the Riverhead NJROTC program — which currently boasts just over 100 members — said of Lt. Col. McCarthy, “Even as the highest-ranking cadet in the unit, I can always go to him and get a strong word of advice. It’s a melancholy kind of feeling. I’m sad to see him go, but happy to see he’s moving on and will be enjoying himself.”
This is a milestone year for the McCarthy family. Younger daughter Kenna will graduate from Shelter Island School in a couple weeks. Then Lt. Col. McCarthy and his wife Linda plan to start the next chapter of their lives with another exciting adventure — they’ll be hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.