Training days: Hanover man headed for Marine Corps

This story originally was published in The Hanover Mariner on April 12, 2006
By Matthew J. Gill/ mgill@cnc.com

The first application Gene Castignetti sent to the admissions office at Norwich University, a military academy in rural Northfield, Vt., came back rejected.

But Castignetti, a 22-year-old Hanover resident who's now preparing for his upcoming commencement from Norwich, is not the type to take a simple 'no' for an answer.

A few days after he received that negative news in the mail, Castignetti drove up to the Norwich campus - it's three hours away - and he paid a visit to the school's admission's office.

Believing his rejection may have resulted from the school's not having seen all of his transcripts - Gene had previously earned two associate's degrees at Quincy College - he met with the head of admissions, and showed him the entirety of his academic record. With that additional information, and the determination he demonstrated in going to bat for his education, Castignetti's academic prospects quickly cleared up.

That afternoon - a little more than two years ago - Gene left the Norwich campus as an accepted student, and a member of the class of 2006.

"I'm a pretty persistent guy," said Castignetti, who will graduate in June with a Bachelor of Arts degree in criminal justice.

The persistence that has paid off for him at Norwich will also be a characteristic on which Castignetti will have to rely as he begins the next phase of his career.

After returning to the South Shore for a month or so this summer, Castignetti will head to Virginia to begin a session in the United States Marine Corps Officer Candidates School.

"I've always wanted to be in the military, since I was young," he said. "I just want to serve my country, I don't know if I want to make a career of it, but I want to do my stint."

"I have several marines in my family," he added, "and in my personal opinion the Marine Corps is the best branch."

As he has long been interested in serving in the military, Castignetti said his parents advised him that were he to enter the Armed Forces, to do so as an officer. And that's just what he's planning to do.

The Officer Candidates School will consist of 10 weeks of training, Castignetti said, and those weeks will be filled will physical and mental challenges.

"What's really stressed at officer candidates' school is leadership," he said.

The training is known to be tough, he added, and on average about two of every seven officer candidates drop out before completing the course.

If Castignetti does finish, he would then be commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Marine Corps, and would be sent back to school for six months of officer training.

After that, he'd attend a specialty job school, and upon completion, he'll owe the Corps 3-1/2 years of service in the field.

That service will likely send him to Iraq, Castignetti said.

"I'm not thrilled about it," he said of that scenario, "but it's what I'm signing up for."

Castignetti said some of his fellow classmates at Norwich have served tours of duty in Iraq, and they've come back to the school and talked about their experiences serving in the war zone.

"No one has anything terrible to say, like the media," he said. "They said it's not as bad as they say it is on CNN, but no one's said they've enjoyed it and had fun."

Gene is the son of Gerry Castignetti of Canton and Dawn Castignetti of Hanover.

Gerry Castignetti addressed the possibility of his son being sent

to Iraq.

"I would be crazy or lying to you if I said I didn't have concerns, but in the next breath, [Gene's] a committed person."

"There is a very unique group of people in America that believe they're doing the right things for this country. And I'm very proud of him. I am very proud of my son."

Gerry Castignetti said his son has been interested in joining the military for a long time.

"He liked the idea of the military makeup of life," he said. "He wanted to join a military school, he focused on it and talked about it a lot."

And attending Norwich, which he described as his son's "true desire,"

has done a lot for Gene.

The school "has incredibly helped to take a young man, and mold him

to be a young adult. The school is phenomenal."

The life of a Cadet

According to Gene, Norwich has prepared him well, and he's learned a lot during his two years there.

"Norwich has done a lot for me," he said. "I have nothing but good things to say about the school."

"During the weekdays, there's not a whole lot to do other than keep yourself busy," he added. "It's a good environment for study."

In a typical week at Norwich, cadets wake up at 5:30 a.m., and five days a week participate in formation drills.

There's three days of physical training too, and two room inspections each week.

During inspections, everything must be cleaned, folded and put away, Castignetti said, a scene that would be rarely found in the dormitories of most other universities in America.

"I missed out on a lot of the partying and other things," Castignetti said, "but made up for it with everything else."

While at Norwich, Castignetti participated in the school's ROTC program, and in the ROTC orienteering team.

In orienteering competition, which he described as "[racing] with a map and a compass," the school competes against other military academies, including West Point, and as a team, they work together to, simply "find stuff in the woods."

This past weekend, Gene and his team competed in two different events in the Boston area.

Castignetti is also a member of the Semper Fidelis Society, a Marine Corps fraternity, and he enjoys snowboarding.

He said he plans to get his master's degree at Norwich, through an online program.