SALISBURY, NC (WBTV) - From Catawba College: Catawba College students who want to pursue a career as an officer in one of the branches of the United States Armed Forces can apply for a new scholarship to help them do so. Interested students can apply to be considered this year for a $1,000 award from the Non Sibi Sed Patriae (Not for Self, for Country) Annual Scholarship.
Two 2013 Catawba College alumni and close friends who established this scholarship are both supply officers in their respective military branches. Christian Crifasi serves in the U.S. Navy as a Supply Corps Officers at NAVSUP Fleet Logistics Center San Diego in San Diego, Calif., while Spencer Preston is a Marine Officer holding the position as a Supply/Fiscal/Logistics Officer with Marine Wing Support Squadron 271 at Marine Corps Air Station in Cherry Point, N.C.
"There isn't a lot of exposure for the military while you're attending College and that is comparable to having only one-track in mind," Preston, an Exercise Science major and a four-year varsity soccer player at Catawba, explains. "A lot of people feel the call to serve, but no one puts it on the plate for them. You have to commit to the service.
"We're not looking for applications, we are looking for commitments. The college itself is a college based on service. At the end of the day, Catawba College is a unique experience and it's not for everybody, just like the service, it's not for everybody. But if we can facilitate a connection between interested students by being available to talk to them about serving, it opens the hatch for their consideration to answer the call."
Crifasi echoes Preston's sentiments saying, "I definitely have a different perspective since I've joined. What got me started was the desire to serve; especially growing up in a small town (Coleridge, N.C.) where so many join the military. I have grandfathers, cousins and good friends who have served and it was always in the back of my mind. Once I met with all of the branches and all of the recruiters, I figured the Navy was best for me."
Crifasi majored in Business Administration with a concentration in Economics and ran Cross Country at Catawba. He started Officer Candidate School in Newport, R.I. several months after he graduated, in August 2013, and received his commission in November 2013. His first operational tour was onboard USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) where he served form July 2014 to August 2016.
Preston held several jobs, including employment as an Admissions Counselor at Catawba, a part-time fire-fighter position with the Salisbury Fire Department, work for "The Wonderful Company," and a position with Quality Cabinets and Counters in fabrication and installation of countertops/cabinets, before he began his journey on the yellow footprints at Officer Candidate School (OCS) in September of 2016. He completed OCS in November 2016 earning his commission with the United States Marine Corps.
"When I first graduated from Catawba, Christian wanted me to join the Navy, but I didn't. Later when I felt ready to serve, I started to solicit the different branches. Remember, there's an enlisted path and there's an officers path. When I called other branches, they were telling me what they could do for me, but when I called the Marine Corps, they asked me if I had what it takes," Preston recalls. "Basic School for Officers is very physical and very mentally demanding. As challenging as it is, it is meant to be horrible. My older brother, who served as a Marine from 1991-1995, had told me the Marine Corps was a culture, more than just a branch of the armed forces; I have found that to be true."
Crifasi describes himself and Preston as "pretty blessed to be where we are right now," and believes the scholarship is an appropriate way to pay it forward to current and future Catawba students. "Hopefully, we can provide some guidance for students who want to pursue a career as a commissioned officer in one of the branches of the U.S. Armed Forces.
"For both of us, at the end of the day, we do what we do because of our country and the people who are in it. In an era when people are very divided, it's good to come together for a common cause," Crifasi adds.
Preston says he is "the same passionate, motivated and heart-filled competitor" that he was when he was at Catawba, but his maturity level has changed. "My drive for life is more about service, but now, with the position I hold (Marines first, Mission always), I have 21 Marines under my charge and I'm responsible for their lives and welfare. My dedication is circled around the three Fs – Faith, Family and my Flag."
Crifasi jokes that he would like to think that he has more tact than he did when he was at Catawba. "The Navy has taught me to be more tactful in the way I approach people. Catawba built a foundation and gave me what I needed to succeed in the Navy. I am mostly the same person, but a little more refined."
Both Crifasi and Preston share some advice to Catawba students who are interested in applying for the scholarship they have established:
"Make sure that you understand that this is a very rewarding career, but there are also sacrifices, especially time away from family," Crifasi says. "Ensure that you're mentally prepared for those challenges."
And Preston says, "For someone pursuing a position like we hold and this scholarship, be willing to commit. Answer the call to serve this great Nation. You've got to be committed and it's going to be challenging – you'll have a lot of unknowns – but as I tell my wife, 'We've got each other and Christ. Those two things combined are an unstoppable force."
Catawba students who want to apply to be considered for the Non Sibi Sed Patriae Annual Scholarship are asked to write a brief essay answering the following questions: "Understanding that this line of work comes with inherent risk, including the potential loss of life, why do you want to be a commissioned officer in one of the branches of the Armed Forces? Why not enter into the civilian workforce after graduation?"