The Brandon High School (BHS) Army JROTC program hosted its first annual Veterans Week Pass-in-Review on November 8 at E.F. McLane Stadium. It was held in honor of Brandon’s former Senior Army Instructor, Lt. Colonel (Ret.) Thomas Michel, who served on the faculty at BHS from 1979 to 1999 teaching and mentoring thousands of cadets during his years as an instructor. Colonel Michel came to Brandon after a successful career with the U.S. Army Field Artillery that included a tour of duty as a military advisor in Vietnam.
Joining Colonel Michel for the ceremony was his son, Admiral (Ret.) Charles Michel, who retired in May of this year as Vice Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard. Admiral Michel graduated with the BHS class of 1981 and was the cadet battalion commander for the Eagle Battalion (Army JROTC) in his senior year. Following graduation from the Coast Guard Academy in 1985, he served 33 years as a commissioned officer in a variety of diverse assignments.
The host commander for the Pass-in-Review was Lt. Colonel (Ret.) Donald Gunn, the current Senior Army Instructor for Brandon High School, who, like Admiral Michel, was a Brandon cadet during Colonel Michel’s tenure with the JROTC program. He served as the cadet battalion commander for BHS during school year 1985-1986. Like Colonel Michel, he served over 20 years in the Army before retiring and returning to the Brandon area to become a JROTC instructor.
The current cadet battalion commander, Rayna Drigo, received a surprise promotion to Cadet Lt. Colonel just prior to the Pass-in-Review. Her new rank insignia was pinned on by two former BHS cadet battalion commanders, Admiral Michel and Colonel Gunn. Rayna has received a Letter of Assurance from the Admissions Office at the United States Military Academy at West Point, which reserves a seat for her in the West Point Class of 2023 pending final medical and physical fitness qualification.
Drigo said, “The Brandon High School JROTC program and I are truly honored to have been able to participate in such a special event honoring LTC Michael and all the veterans who have served and protected our country. I think it’s important to show love and support to all of our nation’s veterans, and I hope this event is the start of a tradition at Brandon High School as well as inspires many other people in the community to show their love and support for those who have and still are giving their lives for our freedoms.”
The BHS JROTC program was established by the Army in April of 1972 and began training its first cadets during school year 1972-1973, the first year of instruction at Brandon’s new campus on Victoria Street. In addition to Colonel Gunn, Brandon’s JROTC program is led by Master Sergeant Robert Maestas and Sergeant First Class James Smith.
Brandon High School is located at 1101 Victoria St. in Brandon. Visit http://brandon.mysdhc.org/.