By Rich Acritelli
As our nation commemorates the anniversary of our fight for independence July 4th, there are many examples of military service that would make our Founding Fathers proud. The sacrifices that are made by our local citizens to protect this country should not be overlooked or forgotten.
At Rocky Point High School’s 2017 graduation ceremony, senior Lisa Schuchman was surprised to be reunited with her brother, Chris, who has been serving overseas in the United States Air Force. It had been three years since Chris traveled home from his duty station in Germany to see his loved ones in Sound Beach. As his former teacher and baseball coach, Chris is a sincere young man who represents all that is right with America. For the people gathered on the special occasion, myself included, it was an honor to witness the special moment for Chris, Lisa and their family. The big smile that beamed across Chris’s face for the crowded gym to see was characteristic of his genuine demeanor that I remember.
He was a kid who always hustled, never made excuses and was an outstanding teammate on and off the baseball field. Walking around the hallways of Rocky Point, Chris demonstrated a respect that was second to none and a smile that was contagious among his friends. It seemed like yesterday that his buddies Danny Capell, Jonathan Popko and Steven Soltysik could count on the outstanding attributes of “Schucky” to be an outstanding friend and teammate. When Chris told me that he was going to enlist in the Air Force, as his teacher, coach and a veteran, it was easy to understand that like with baseball, he would flourish in the military. He was a student who always understood the differences between right and wrong and a kid who was motivated to serve his nation.
Two months after he graduated, Chris completed basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. For Chris, this was one of his proudest accomplishments, as it solidified the discipline and structure that he learned in order to fulfill his future duties. When he completes his active duty obligation in 2019, it is his goal to return to civilian life to become a police officer and continue to serve in the Air Force Reserves.
“It is my fondest memories of the local kid who always shook my hand as a student, looked me in the eye and now answers ‘yes sir’ to many of the questions asked of him.”
— Rich Acritelli
Over the last three years, Chris has spent most of this time in Germany at the huge military base at Ramstein and at Kaiserslautern where he currently serves. He has handled the internal security for the air installations and worked with German police authorities to ensure that American military personnel are properly following the laws within the country.
From November 2014 to May 2015, Chris was deployed to Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. He remained on base to ensure the safety of the American and NATO forces who count on the vital post for resources, reinforcements and logistical support. During his deployment, Chris recalled the presence of the enemy through the constant mortar attacks the Taliban waged against the mostly western forces that have been in Afghanistan since October 2001. Although he endured the frigid weather and snow, Chris vividly described the beauty of the mountains that were always nearby. His long-term deployment in Germany has allowed him the chance to travel to Ireland, France, Austria, Poland, Switzerland, Norway and the Netherlands. He has said he thoroughly enjoyed the ability to travel, learn about the different cultures, understand the German language and, with his big smile, he met a lovely German young lady who is studying to become a nurse.
Speaking with Chris, it is evident he fully understands the attention to detail required of his security forces job through the measured responses he provided about his time in Germany and Afghanistan. It is my fondest memories of the local kid who always shook my hand as a student, looked me in the eye and now answers “yes sir” to many of the questions asked of him. While his parents are very proud of every one of their children, you can tell the immense satisfaction that his father holds when he describes the experiences his son has gained through his service to America.
Joseph Cognitore Jr. graduated from Rocky Point High School in 1991. He is the son of Post 6249 Rocky Point Veterans of Foreign Wars Commander Joseph Cognitore, who was the last Grand Marshall of the Rocky Point St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Before going to college, Cognitore Jr. enlisted in the United States Army Reserves and was stationed at the military center in Shoreham, where he was trained as a medical supply specialist. In high school, Cognitore was a talented soccer and baseball player, who later went on to Suffolk County Community College, where he both played sports and studied criminal justice. After completing his first two years of school, he transferred to SUNY Brockport where he entered the Army ROTC program to become an officer. While he was determined to gain his commission, he continued studying criminal justice and minored in military history. In 1995, Cognitore graduated and was immediately promoted to the rank of second lieutenant. He was later trained in the difficult job of being an ordinance officer at Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland.
A short time later he was deployed to South Korea where he was stationed near North Korea on the Demilitarized Zone. Cognitore worked in a missile maintenance company that helped ensure the air defense of American and South Korean forces against the constant threat of attack from North Korea.
“Like his father, who is a Vietnam veteran and a recipient of the Bronze Star, Cognitore has an incredibly bright future within the military.”
— Rich Acritelli
As a young second lieutenant, he served as a platoon leader who learned a great deal about the importance of taking care of his men in a combat area. Cognitore said he enjoyed traveling around South Korea and later volunteered for the explosives ordinance disposal unit. After serving for a year on the Korean Peninsula, he was promoted to a first lieutenant and he trained at ordinance training facilities in Alabama, Florida and Maryland. He was later ordered to Selfridge Air Force Base in Michigan to handle the sensitive ordinance materials at the base.
During the 9/11 attacks, fighter jets from Selfridge were scrambled too late to intercept Flight 93 over the skies of Shanksville, Pennsylvania. While he was serving in the upper Midwest, he said the attacks were devastating for him to watch. He grew up an hour from lower Manhattan, and right before the acts of terrorism, Cognitore visited the World Trade Center towers.
In 2007, he left his family in Michigan to be deployed to Kandahar, Afghanistan. His primary mission was to help train the Afghan Civil Order Police, to help ensure that the Taliban would not influence areas that were liberated from their previous control. It was another unique experience for the local officer who worked with NATO countries from England, Germany, the Czech Republic, Canada and Turkish military forces. For a brief time, Cognitore served at a Forward Operating Base established by the German army that was frequently attacked by the Taliban. Cognitore said he was thankful for his wife, Carrie, for her love and ability to take care of their home and children, Claire and Joseph Cognitore IV, while he was deployed.
In 2012, with his father at his side, Cognitore was promoted as a lieutenant colonel, and he accepted a new position as an executive officer of a transportation company at his base. With every job, duty station and elevated rank, he has continually distinguished himself as a capable officer that could handle all of his military tasks. Like his father, who is a Vietnam veteran and a recipient of the Bronze Star, Cognitore has an incredibly bright future within the military. He has already graduated from the Command and General Staff training program and will be attending the Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.
As we take time to honor the historic actions of our Founding Fathers, may we thank our current patriots who still continue to strengthen the American way of life for current and future generations of this great nation.
Rich Acritelli is a social studies teacher at Rocky Point High School and an adjunct professor of American history at Suffolk County Community College.