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Charlotte Amalie
Sunday, March 26, 2023


April 23 – A 1998 graduate of St. Croix Central High School returned, after two tours of duty overseas, to his former Junior Reserve Officer Training Corp program to thank his instructors.
Sgt. Misael Maldonado, 24, shared his military experiences with the class Wednesday and told them the leadership skills passed on from his instructors had made his career a success. He is home visiting his family in Estate Glynn.
After completing eight months in Iraq in March, he returned to Fort Bragg, N.C. He is a member of the 82nd Airborne Division. He served in Afghanistan in 2002.
"He holds the record here for leadership," Maj. Larry Bond, senior army instructor at CHS since 1991, said of Maldonado. "His leadership skills are very good. He's a great team member, drummer and is always a lot of fun. He could always influence his colleagues to perform."
Maldonado said he enlisted in the Army in February 1999. He had completed four years in the JROTC program. His military occupational specification is a Computer Information System Support Operator/Analyst, but Maldonado said his primary occupation is being an infantryman.
He has not decided whether to make the military a career, but said the present conflict in Iraq won't be a factor in his decision. He would like to have a corporate job in the computer field and has plans to begin college in August.
He had already reenlisted before he left Iraq. He said, "Army life is who I am." His unit has been alerted it will return to the Middle East around December. He said soldiers are required to have 90 days out of the combat zone, so technically, he can return any time after late summer.
In sharing the details of life in the "war zone," Maldonado said it is extremely important that hometown communities support their soldiers by sending letters, care packages, cassettes, or CD’s with local music. He said videotapes of community and family events are also appreciated.
"Mail call is what keeps you alive," he said.
When asked about the increased incidents of crime, and gun-related incidents in the territory, he said, "They don’t know how good they have it. We live on a beautiful island, no bombs dropping on our homes. I hear about people dying here for stupidness. If they had a taste of what it is really like, they would stop; cease what they are doing," As he spoke he shook his head in apparent disbelief.
A member of his unit was killed when a car bomber slipped through a checkpoint. Maldonado said he now looks forward to each day with appreciation for what his creator has provided. His comrade's Humvee was blown up in front of the Maldonado's vehicle.
"It rattled my truck. We heard the loud sound, but could not see anything until the thick, dark smoke cleared. After that, all we could see was scattered pieces of body parts and metal from the vehicle." He said they did their best to collect the parts so remains could be returned to his family. The incident happened in Fallujah.
That soldier was married, with two children. "I guess the prayers from people here saved me that time," Maldonado said.
"The war has shaped me. I’ve learned to appreciate the little things in life," Maldonado said.
He said it is important that the territory supports the soldiers deployed overseas from the Virgin Islands National Guard. "It helps them to survive another day away from their loved ones."
Jasmine Belardo said Maldonado’s military experience has touched her. Her mother, Brenda Belardo, has been deployed with the 661st Military Police Company of the Virgin Island since July of 2003. Jasmine has stepped into the role of caring for her younger brother and her father. She said her mother's long deployment and the conflict overseas had not changed her mind about military service. The CHS sophomore said she still plans an Army career.
"I guess this is a lesson God wanted to give me at an early age about life," said the 16-year-old JROTC cadet. Belardo said, "All the things my mother tried to prepare me for are here. That’s life," she said. She bowed her head holding back her emotions.
Maldonado said he dedicated his first jump wings to his family because their support is the "wind beneath his wings."
He said his spirituality keeps him focused. He is the only son and middle child of three siblings. His parents are Samuel and Blanca Maldonado. His father pastors at the Hermanos Unidos en Cristo el Tabernaculo in Williams Delight.
In a telephone interview Thursday, his sister Melady Maldonado said words could not explain how proud she was of her little brother. "When he first went to the Army I thought he was crazy. My whole family was afraid for him. Now, I see that he has matured, and I am extremely proud of him. The family is very proud of him. I can’t explain how proud."
During Maldonado’s visit, another JROTC graduate stopped by on her return from the Air Force Basic Training. Airman 1st Class Kashima Estridge said she joined the high school leadership program for the camaraderie.
Estridge, a member of the Class of 2003, said Central’s JROTC program provided her a home. "He was like a dad," she said about Maj. Bond. "I got a family," she said with a smile. She said she was attracted to the Corp unit because of the appearance of the drill team and the drum corp.
Estridge is going to Hill Air Force Base in Utah. She will train as a supply specialist.
After completing one semester at the St. Croix campus of the University of the Virgin Islands, Estridge joined the Air Force in February 2004.
Maldonado, in his Army green uniform, and Estridge, in her Air Force blue, were embraced by Darrel Richards, assistant principal, as he greeted them in the corridor. "They are ours," he said with pride.
Both Maldonado and Estridge said they had no family members in the military.
Maj. Bond said there are approximately 500 cadets in the program throughout the territory. Presently, the Corp is also offered at Eudora Kean and Charlotte Amalie high schools on St. Thomas.
The JROTC was established in the early 1900s. The Corp’s goal is to motivate students to become better citizens with focuses on community support, excellence in competition, and leadership.
Instructors who are retired from the military conduct JROTC at accredited secondary schools throughout the United States.
Classroom instruction is augmented throughout the year by community service activities, drill competition, and other military training.

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