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IMAs Have Unique Opportunity to Serve at Merchant Marine Academy

  • Published
  • By Bo Joyner

Lt. Col. Nicholas Passarella and Lt. Col. Jason McMunn, a pair of Air Force Reserve individual mobilization augmentees, recently had the unique opportunity to work with midshipmen cadets at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in support of the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps program.

The USMMA, located at Kings Point, New York, is a U.S. service academy that trains and educates future leaders of the global maritime industry, which serves vital U.S. national security interests during both peace and war. The USMMA is a unique service academy in that the midshipmen cadets can choose their respective military service branch while enrolled at the academy. This option is exclusive to the USMMA, in that the midshipmen do not have to elect to declare their branch of service intent until their sophomore, or in some cases, their junior year. Even more exclusive to the USMMA, midshipmen who join the AFROTC program in certain circumstances can commission directly into the Air Force Reserve or Air National Guard.

During the spring of 2022, Lt. Col. Bernard King, the AFROTC Detachment 560 commander at Manhattan College, and Passarella were discussing recruiting events for the upcoming school year and how Reserve Component members could augment and support the active-component ROTC cadre. King asked Passarella if he would be interested in serving an active-duty tour at the USMMA as the Air Force senior liaison. Passarella jumped in with both feet, and recruited another IMA, McMunn, to tackle the task.

Upon approval from AFROTC headquarters, Passarella and McMunn were brought onto temporary active duty for the express purpose of leading and administering the one-of-a-kind Air and Space Force ROTC unit at the USMMA. Due to their unique experiences both in and out of the Air Force, Passarella and McMunn were well suited for the herculean task of establishing the Air Force’s in-person presence at the Merchant Marine Academy.

The pair faced a host of challenges since this was the first time the USMMA had a full-time Air Force presence on its campus with the express purpose of advancing and commissioning midshipmen into the Department of the Air Force.

Immediately after arriving, Passarella and McMunn hit the ground running. Passarella arranged a meeting with USMMA leadership, where he was able to secure office space and equipment for the Air Force ROTC program.

“Everyone in the commandant’s office was phenomenal,” he said, “especially CAPT. Mikel Stroud, CDR. Andrew McCarthy and Collen Sica.”

McMunn established lines of communications and opened channels within the USMMA superintendent’s office to facilitate and successfully advance the Air Force’s agenda.

“All the people at the USMMA and ROTC involved in making this happen were all on the same page and were all very attentive and supportive of our endeavors,” he said.

King and the ROTC cadre were instrumental in the success of this new endeavor, successfully supporting the IMAs with reach-back capabilities.

The IMAs faced a host of administrative hurdles, most of which were rectified with little more than an in-person visit to the appropriate official.

“This is all about relationships and team building,” Passarella said.

More difficult were the actual personal situations that were unique to each midshipman cadet and that could only be dealt with by experienced leaders. Each time these issues arose, the IMAs expertly handled the situations.

One of the most important aspects of this journey was bringing to life classroom lectures and lessons learned to the cadets, some of whom were about to embark on their Air Force or Space Force careers.

During the lecture on Air Force operations, Passarella said, “We as officers have the greatest responsibility. We have been entrusted with our nation’s most important resource, our nation’s people. These are the men and women who have volunteered to serve our great nation. We as leaders must always strive for complete mission success. However, our people and their well-being and safety are paramount above all else. As leaders we are there for not only what we normally are expected to do, but what we might have to do.”

The unique experiences of these two IMAs highlight not only the versatility of the Air Force Reserve and its members, but it showcases how Reserve Component members have stepped up to augment the active duty outside of the normal requirements and have continually achieved success.

Furthermore, it magnifies the invaluable abilities of Reserve leaders and displays how the Reserve Component contributes every day to the active duty and to the future of the Air and Space Forces.

In this unique and unchartered dynamic, IMA Reservists and the active-duty ROTC cadre, along with the U.S. service academy staff, all partnered together with a single focus to bring about and commission the next generation of Air and Space Force leaders.

Passarella, a career intelligence officer, is currently assigned as the IMA to the commander of an Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Operations Support Squadron at Fort Meade, Maryland.

McMunn is currently serving as a primary-duty Academy Liaison Officer stationed at the Air Force Academy. He has repeatedly served as the commander of security forces squadrons. His initial command was immediately following the 9/11 attacks.