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A Young Man’s Path to a Better Future

Photo Credit: John Klaves

Gary Powers Jr., a Portsmouth, Virginia native, had a wish for his life—to serve his country in the U.S. Navy. Like many adolescents who finish high school with a less than desirable grade point average, daring to dream big seemed futile. He felt unqualified.   

As a result of countless moves, he attended eight elementary schools, two middle schools, and two high schools, eventually graduating from Western Branch High School in Chesapeake, Virginia, with a 2.0 GPA.   

A low GPA wasn’t the only circumstance that drained his hope of serving in the military. He had no place to call home. He and his father were living out of a motel, and at times, in their car when they could not afford it. “We were basically homeless,” Gary shares, “But I considered any place that I laid my head at night as my home.”  

Daily Struggles & Beating Adversity

Gary explains how his circumstances affected his daily life: “I would constantly listen to teachers criticize me, and other students saying, ‘All you have to do is come to school and pay attention.’ They didn’t know I had other responsibilities, that I was working 30-50 hours a week just to survive. If I wasn’t getting dressed in a motel room, it was in the confines of a passenger seat, then standing at the bus stop and going to school as if all were normal.”  

He details how school lunch was his only meal some days, and he would brush his teeth in the restroom sinks and wash in the restroom stalls. “Of course, I faced adversity in school, but I pushed past it. With dirty clothes and low funds, people would always think it was funny to joke, not knowing what was going on. But I realized that not everyone around me understood that not everyone’s lives are the same. They didn’t have the experience I had.”  

Gary says he was fortunate to have his immediate family involved in his life. He confesses he kept much of his struggles from his mother not to worry her but felt assured she was there for him when he needed her. “Aside from my mom, my dad and I went through it all together. Everything I went through was with him, and I could never credit him enough. He did all he could to keep me on track even with the constant thought of, ‘What if nothing works out?’.”  

Gary recognizes that most people from the outside looking in would question a parent for not being able to provide the best life for their child, but he says, “that comes from ignorance and lack of knowledge when it pertains to different walks of life.” Gary adds, “I had friends who didn’t have their fathers in their lives, so the fact that I had mine to guide me even through the worst of times is something I’ll never take for granted. The experiences I shared with my father and the guidance he provided even when all hope seemed to be lost is what held together my morality and path to success.”  

“I always looked forward to what good could possibly come from this.”

But those who persevere against all odds will tell you: Circumstances don’t define you. They shape you. For Gary, this couldn’t be truer. “I always looked forward to what good could possibly come from this.”  

Gary was in the Air Force JRTOC in high school for two years, where he initially heard about military opportunities. However, after applying to both local and out-of-state colleges and receiving one rejection letter after another, he felt he had a “zero chance” of getting into a college, much less a college ROTC program. 

Although Gary is now passionate about his career path, it wasn’t his initial goal to serve in the Navy. “I started learning about jobs they had to offer relating to what I had an interest in pursuing.” This step eventually led Gary to begin his enlistment process with a Navy recruiter in the fall of 2019. Soon after, Gary encountered a Regent University recruiter who would forever change the trajectory of his life. He was directed to the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps (NROTC) Preparatory Program at Regent University—one of only 20 naval preparatory programs in the country.  

“Regent was the only school that asked me why my grades and GPA were the way they were. Every other school rejected me with no questions.”

Also referred to as the NPP, this scholarship program provides economically and academically disadvantaged applicants with a unique opportunity to earn a commission in the U.S. Navy. It also provides an extra year of academics and military orientation to prepare students for NROTC success.   

“Right after I learned about the NPP program, I applied and awaited a response,” explains Gary. “Before Regent accepted me, they had me write an essay about why my GPA was what it was, so I did. I wrote an essay about my life.”

Adding, “Regent was the only school that asked me why my grades and GPA were the way they were. Every other school rejected me with no questions. Once admissions read my essay, I got a phone call saying I got accepted.” 

Mentoring & Training Opens the Path to New Opportunity

Gary can attest to the value of having preparatory training and career mentoring.

“I especially thank Marine Corps Master Gunnery Sgt. John Cordero for guiding and mentoring me through the yearlong prep program,” says Gary. “I’m happy to report that I completed the program with a 3.1 GPA.”

Cordero, a retired Marine Corps veteran and assistant director for University Recruitment at Regent, guided Gary through the NPP application process that led to his scholarship award. He also served as a supportive mentor and advised him on his future career.   

“There are underserved or disadvantaged high school students nationwide like Gary who may not be competitive for the 4-year National NROTC Scholarship but who have the desire and commitment to earn a bachelor’s degree and become a naval officer if given the opportunity,” says Cordero. “These students, who are like diamonds in the rough, often experience financial challenges and don’t score high on standardized tests. However, they demonstrate great potential through their character, grades, extracurricular activities, or ability to overcome adversity.”

The preparatory program equips students with the knowledge and skills needed to compete in the rigorous academic challenges associated with NROTC. Cordero adds, “The NPP provides students an opportunity to let their light shine. At Regent, we love to invest in students who show great promise.”   

Now 19, Gary completed the NROTC Preparatory Program and is a midshipman for the Navy after earning his NROTC 4-year scholarship. He is focused on completing school, the NROTC program and aspires to be commissioned as an ensign.  

“The training I received gave me the knowledge and confidence … to pursue a military career.”

“My goal is to be a surface warfare officer, perhaps a public affairs officer,” says Gary. “Regent and Master Sgt. Cordero prepared me for the NROTC. The training I received gave me the knowledge and confidence I needed to be able to pursue a military career.”   

Gary ends with a favorite scripture passage that he hopes encourages others: Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. James 1:2-4.  

The NPP at Regent University

Regent’s NPP program opens access and prepares you to earn a commission in the Navy. Designed to enhance the midshipman candidate’s academic, moral, mental, and physical foundations, students actively participate in many NROTC activities while strengthening their math, English and leadership fundamentals. Students selected for the NPP are awarded a scholarship, which covers tuition, room and board, and fees for the entire preparatory year at Regent. This program is only offered to prospective Navy-option midshipmen.  

Who can be qualified for NPP? 

Demonstrations of future Navy leadership potential include but are not limited to the following: 

  • Leadership and participation in a variety of school, extracurricular, community or similar activities, particularly those with a charitable or public service purpose. 
  • Receipt of civic or similar awards. 
  • A history of a drive to succeed by excelling in school, sports, overcoming personal adversity, or the presence of other compelling factors, indicating that the student has a desire to succeed and the ability to overcome barriers. 
  • Being regarded as a role model by the teachers and peers at their high school. 

Not all the above factors need to be present. The intent is to provide additional opportunities to all who, for any of the above or similar reasons, demonstrate the potential for future success as a naval officer. 

General NROTC requirements: 

  • Be a United States citizen.  
  • Have no moral obligations or personal convictions that will prevent bearing of arms and supporting and defending the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, or to taking an oath to perform such acts.  
  • Be at least 17 years of age on or before September 1 of the year of enrollment and less than 27 years of age on December 31 of the year an applicant expects to graduate, complete all NROTC training requirements, and be commissioned. Those with prior or current active duty in the Armed Forces may be granted age waivers equal to the number of months served. Those awarded the maximum age waiver must not have reached their 30th birthday by December 31 of year graduation and commissioning are anticipated.  
  • Meet physical requirements.  
  • Have the intention of commissioning as an Officer in the U.S. Navy. (Marine Option MIDN are not eligible for this scholarship.)
  • Possess a high school diploma or equivalent certificate.  
  • Be accepted for admission as a full-time student at Regent University.  

Once the preparatory year has been completed successfully, the student is awarded a 4-year NROTC Scholarship if the following conditions are met:  

  • Obtain medical clearance from the Department of the Navy.  
  • Pass the Navy’s Physical Fitness Assessment (PFA).  
  • Achieve a minimum cumulative GPA of 2.8 or higher.  
  • Agree to the terms of the scholarship contract.  
  • Receive the Professor of Naval Science’s recommendations.  
  • Receive Regent University’s endorsement.  

To learn more about the NROTC Preparatory Program, contact Regent’s Military Resource Center at military@regent.edu.  

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