Mooney earns NROTC scholarship to Harvard

Mooney earns NROTC scholarship to Harvard

Tara Mooney (12) commands the unarmed basic drill team at the Ramona High School NJROTC field meet, Jan. 18. She won the NROTC scholarship to study at Harvard College. (Photo courtesy of Tara Mooney)

As underclassmen, Westview JROTC cadets are given uniform inspections, where their platoon commanders scold them for any small piece of their uniform that’s out of place. But when she received these inspections, Tara Mooney (12) always maintained complete focus. 

She kept her arms at the position of attention, her eyes locked straight ahead and her chin held up high. Mooney did so, even amidst the reprimanding, because she knew that in this discomfort, there would come personal growth.

“JROTC opened my eyes to the importance of leaving your comfort zone and how that’s a catalyst for growth,” Mooney said. “A lot of the situations we’re put in are intentionally uncomfortable, and being able to overcome these and better ourselves is one of the first things we’re encouraged to do when joining the unit.”

This recognition of the personal growth in discomfort ultimately pushed Mooney to continue her military involvement by applying for and receiving the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps (NROTC) scholarship this winter.

The NROTC scholarship will pay monthly stipends towards Mooney’s tuition at Harvard College, while requiring her to take naval science classes all four years. She will then serve a minimum of five years as a Naval officer directly after college.

The NROTC scholarship process took place concurrently with her college applications. However, the scholarship also included a physical fitness test and interview with a naval officer—both of which, Mooney said, were made easier with her JROTC experience.

“[The scholarship] puts a greater emphasis on leadership and STEM-based skills, which you would use as an officer,” Mooney said. “A decent number of the questions were especially geared towards leadership, and I could use the different experiences that I’ve had affiliated with JROTC to answer a lot of the questions.”

Though she has remained heavily involved with JROTC, Mooney wasn’t always anticipating this life path. Originally slated to attend Del Norte High School, Mooney came to Westview because it is the sole high school in the district with a JROTC program.

“I wanted to leave my comfort zone and try something new that I still had some familiarity with because of my dad’s military experience,” Mooney said. “When I joined the unit, I was able to become more involved and understand how the things we did in JROTC could actually translate to being in the military.”

Mooney had to keep perfect posture in uniform inspections. She had to maintain immaculate form while drilling in the midday heat. She had to push herself beyond her own capabilities in workouts.

Over time, Mooney developed a love for the high mental and physical intensity in every facet of ROTC.

“It’s the sense of accomplishment that you feel after knowing you didn’t quit and persevered, and just the mental toughness that’s both tested and created by the situations,” Mooney said. “The lessons and toughness I’ve learned through those situations have translated to other things as well, especially in the sense I’m better able to understand that high-stress situations like that never last forever.”

But ultimately, it was her experience as a platoon commander junior year that solidified her desires to become a Naval officer. As a platoon commander, Mooney was tasked with teaching and guiding 16 cadets in the program all year—a job she said was similar to her future role in the military.

“That was the first experience I ever had where I was a personal leader to others and was able to mentor them and watch their growth from the first to last term,” she said. “Being a military officer focuses largely around that personal leadership, so it’s something I wanted to continue practicing and refining.”

Mooney said that along with her JROTC experience, her involvement in STEM subjects at Westview also likely put her in line to receive the scholarship.

“They want you to have a technical background because a lot of the stuff you’re doing is advanced calculus and physics for nuclear engineering,” she said. “The technology they’re using is super advanced and needs to be worked correctly as an officer.”

Though the next nine years of Mooney’s life have been planned out, she’s not certain what will follow.

“As of right now, I’m just planning on seeing where I’m at after the five years [in the military] and seeing my different options,” she said. “I could continue with the Navy or even go back to school, but I’m keeping that path open as of right now.”