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JROTC instructor made big impact

Longtime Naval JROTC Commander set to retire

From Left to right: CDR Robert Thoms, USNR - Tacoma City Councilman, CDR Alan Mandigo, USN (Retired), and LCDR Josh Heisler, USN, one of Mandigo,s first students when he started in 1994, pose together during the City of Destiny Awards, held June 4.

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After serving in the Navy for 20 years, both driving and working on submarines, Commander Alan Mandigo knew that he would like to spend his military retirement teaching but wasn't exactly sure what. Very quickly, Mandigo found his second calling by becoming a Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) instructor and has spent the last 22 years of his life dedicated to instructing students in leadership, community service, and self discipline at Stadium High School. Through the years, he has been admired by students and the community for his commitment to the JROTC program and has been recognized for his outstanding leadership skills.

While at a Navy retirement seminar in 1994, Mandigo expressed an interest in teaching, and it was then that he heard about becoming a JROTC instructor. From there, he anxiously became a certified instructor and applied for a position. Although he is originally from Syracuse, New York, Mandigo knew that he would love to end up in the Pacific Northwest. By the end of 1994, he was hired as the inaugural JROTC instructor at Stadium High School in Tacoma. Mandigo was the first and has been the only Commander of the JROTC program there until he announced his retirement this year.

Today, Mandigo estimates that he has instructed over 1,500 students. "I have loved every minute of it," said Mandigo. "I hope that I have instilled responsibility and everlasting patriotism in every student." While reflecting on his honorable time with the JROTC at Stadium, Mandigo hopes that all of his students have walked away with a plan, whether it be college, military, or straight into the workforce. "We always had this saying in class that being a couch potato was not an option," said Mandigo with a laugh. "It has been a pure honor teaching."

On Saturday, June 4, Mandigo was honored with the City of Destiny Award for Adult Leadership after being nominated by his peers. Although Mandigo has had several honors bestowed upon him over his career, his voice exudes pride when he speaks of the awards his students have been given. "Stadium High School's Naval ROTC has been awarded 15 national unit awards," said Mandigo. "It is incredible." He reminisces over each group of students who joined the JROTC program and how he watched them excel. "They walk in unsure of themselves," said Mandigo. "But they walk out with a life plan."

While retirement will offer he and his wife, Anne, more time with their six children, twenty-two grandchildren and another grandchild on the way, Mandigo also plans to do a bit of traveling and maybe catch up on some house projects. Mandigo will also stay plenty busy with the several organizations he will continue to be a part of such as his position as the National ROTC Chair, Sons of the American Revolution and Northwest Chair of the Military Order of the World Wars. But he will not soon forget his experience with the JROTC and the many children he has met through the years.

Around 50 of Mandigo's former students recently attended his retirement ceremony, introduced themselves, and shared stories of how Mandigo inspired them. Some of those students were from his very first class in 1994. "It was like that scene from the movie Mr. Holland's Opus," said Mandigo. "It was very moving."

Facing retirement for a second time around can be a bit bittersweet but Mandigo has certainly made his mark on the lives of those he has touched and will continue to inspire for years to come.

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