Short break, long commitment for ‘DeMatha man’ heading to U.S. Naval Academy

Jordan Jeletic, shown here against St. John's in the 2018 WCAC championship series, will be attending the U.S. Naval Academy in the fall. His Plebe Summer training begins June 28. Photo courtesy of Krister Holladay

By CHRIS McMANES — Can a teenager survive without his cell phone for six weeks? Jordan Jeletic is about to find out.

On June 28, less than a month after he graduated from DeMatha Catholic High School, Jeletic will report for Induction Day (I-Day) at the United States Naval Academy.

The highlight of the day, which begins at 6:15 that morning, is when first-year students (plebes) take the Oath of Office at 1800 hours (6 p.m.). During this six-week period of Plebe Summer, Jeletic will have limited contact with the outside world, including his family.

Plebes “have no access to television, movies, the Internet or music, and restricted access to cell phones,” an I-Day press release says. “They are only permitted to make three calls during the six weeks of Plebe Summer.”

Uncle Sam will provide Jeletic with all he needs except for the will to succeed. Founded in 1845, the Naval Academy places rigorous physical, mental, moral and academic demands upon the 4,400 men and women who make up the Brigade of Midshipmen.

Whereas DeMatha helped change Jeletic from a boy into a young man, the basic training he will receive during the summer will prepare him for his first year of classes. Upon graduation in 2022, he will be a commissioned, professional officer.

Jeletic left a positive imprint upon DeMatha President Father James Day. The Trinitarian priest recalled him doing many things to benefit the less-fortunate, including collecting books. Jeletic graduated June 1 with a cumulative GPA of 4.336.

“Jordan is a wonderful young man of faith,” Day said after celebrating Mass at St. Jerome. “He believes that he should study well and do well. He also believes in helping other people and always looks beyond himself.

“He truly is a DeMatha man.”

Jeletic won’t have far to travel to attend school. He lives just minutes from the academy, in Annapolis. He had always wanted to go away to college until a neighbor asked if he was interested in his hometown school.

Not knowing if he’d pass the academy’s stringent admissions process, Jeletic also applied to schools such as Maryland, Notre Dame, Duke, Carnegie Mellon and Stanford. He was accepted into Notre Dame’s Reserve Officers Training Corp (ROTC) and could have attended the school for little money.

“Once the Naval Academy selected me,” he said, “I knew that’s where I wanted to go.”

From nomination to appointment

In addition to being superior academically and qualifying medically, the successful Naval Academy applicant must be nominated. These typically come from U.S. senators, House members and the vice president. Rep. Anthony Brown of Maryland’s 4th Congressional District nominated Jeletic.

“It’s a pretty tough application process,” Jeletic said. “Just finishing it is impressive. After I got in, I had to fill out even more paperwork.”

Nominees are appointed by the academy. Less than 8 percent of last year’s applicants received an appointment.

Nominations are “not the easiest things to come by,” Jeletic said. “Appointments are even tougher.”

If Jeletic chooses to leave the academy before his junior year, the former Stags pitcher can do so without military obligation. Graduates are required to serve five years in either the U.S. Navy or U.S. Marine Corps. At this point, his choice is Navy.

“I plan to stay all four years,” Jeletic said. “Depending on how things go, I’ll probably make it a career.”

A leader on the diamond

Extracurricular activities also look good on your Naval Academy application. Jeletic played baseball four years, the last two on varsity. As a freshman, he participated in crew.

A 6-foot, 160-pound righthander, Jeletic helped captain the Stags to the 2018 Washington Catholic Athletic Conference championship series. DeMatha won the first game but dropped the next two.

Jeletic’s brother, Chris, played on the Stags’ 2013 WCAC championship team and now attends the Rochester (N.Y.) Institute of Technology. Jordan pitched 16 innings in 14 games this year and recorded 15 strikeouts. He’s not planning to play for Division I Navy.

Jeletic’s fellow 2018 Stags voted him Most Outstanding Teammate.

“Jordan is smart and very aware of his teammates,” DeMatha Baseball Coach Sean O’Connor said. “He helped other players improve and did well for us on the mound. One of his best attributes is his attention to detail. It really helped him and his teammates accomplish their goals.

“I think, because of his work ethic, he’ll do very well at the academy.”

A band of brothers

Jeletic doesn’t have to look far for successful role models. His parents, Jim and Kelly, work at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt. Jim is deputy project manager for the Hubble Space Telescope mission. Kelly is a computer engineer who works on the ground system for the Joint Polar Satellite System. Jordan plans to major in engineering.

In addition to his parents, coaches and previous teachers, Jeletic said the education he received at DeMatha prepared him well for the nation’s second-oldest service academy. He cited the benefits of being a competitive athlete and taking college-level Advanced Placement (AP) classes.

“It really gave me a good concept of time management,” he said. “On the baseball side of things, especially this year when we had a trainer working out with us, it really started getting me in shape.

“Classroom-wise, I took as many honors and AP courses as I could. And that’ll prepare me for the difficulty of classes [at the academy].”

Lessons learned at DeMatha extend beyond academics and athletics. Caring for the less-fortunate, acknowledging the blessings of God and respecting the dignity of all people are values instilled in every boy at the school. Developing “faith-filled gentlemen and scholars” is much more than a slogan on Madison Street.

Members of the DeMatha community care for one another, particularly when someone needs a helping hand. Father Day often speaks of the school as a brotherhood. Founded in 1946, the institution now has more than 10,000 graduates.

Whether training or fighting on land, in air, above or below water, military personnel must look out for one another. Doing so could mean the difference between returning home dead or alive.

“All the values that DeMatha holds high will come in handy in terms of caring for those around you and [being part of a] brotherhood,” Jeletic said. “And everything I’ve heard about the academy is the same way.

“Everyone has each other’s back.”

Flying with Eagles

Jeletic grew up playing football, soccer and baseball. He joined the Cub Scouts in first grade. Last December, he attained the rank of Eagle Scout.

To achieve scouting’s highest level, he had to earn 21 merit badges above the Life Scout level, 13 of which are required. A sampling includes first aid, communication, cooking, personal fitness, citizenship and lifesaving.

In addition, Jeletic had to complete a service project. He chose to map a cemetery behind his church, Sacred Heart in Bowie. This included shooting photos of each grave and building a spreadsheet to make it easier to locate a specific gravesite. In addition, he and an Eagle Scout friend of his cleared an overgrown, historical section of the cemetery. Family members assisted with other aspects of the project.

“My parents were a huge help,” he said. “My father swung by after work and took as many pictures as he could.”

The spreadsheet can now be easily updated by the parish.

“I learned a lot doing it,” Jeletic said. “It was a lot of work because there ended up being 400 or 500 graves.”

Service and sacrifice

A few of Jeletic’s family members had a more direct influence on his decision to go into the military. An uncle retired from the Army. One grandfather served during the Korean War. Another served during World War II.

“I remember putting up the flag in front of my grandpa’s house on Veterans Day,” Jeletic said. “So, it was kind of a pride they instilled in me. Learning to follow in their footsteps and being part of something bigger.”

The story of 1999 DeMatha graduate and former Navy SEAL Brendan Looney also swayed Jeletic’s decision to study in Annapolis. Looney and Travis Manion, his two-year Naval Academy roommate, were killed in action. In 2010, they were buried side-by-side in Arlington National Cemetery.

Jeletic knows the story well and saw a documentary on Looney and Manion. Bracelets honoring the men adorn his left wrist: “It’s kind of a reminder of who to be like, of what I’m striving to be.”

In every essay he wrote on why he wanted to go to Navy, Jeletic cited Looney.

“Even if you’re not trying to go to a military academy, he’s just a great role model to follow in terms of hard work, persistence and teamwork,” Jeletic said. “I want to strive to be like him. I want to make my own impact, for sure, but I can’t think of anyone better to model my career after.”

Chris McManes is an assistant freshman baseball coach at DeMatha. He interviewed Jordan Jeletic in DeMatha’s LT (SEAL) Brendan Looney ’99 Convocation Center.

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