Navy Cdr. David Chiaro marches with Riverhead cadets in the Lions Club Christmas parade Dec. 10. Photo: Denise Civiletti

The Riverhead Board of Education last night approved the hiring of a new Naval Science Instructor for the high school’s NJROTC program, filling the last vacancy in the program’s faculty.

The board hired Donald Decker to replace Marine Gunnery Sgt. Charles “Gunny” Mahala, who resigned last summer after 11 years in the district. Decker will be paid an annual salary of $100,640.

The district started its school year without certified instructors for the high school program, after Mahala and the program’s former department head, Senior Naval Science Instructor Navy Capt. Timothy McAllister, resigned over the summer. 

The board hired two district employees — Darien Riley, a Marine Corps veteran, and Zachary Morales, a substitute teacher who had previously filled the position — as “ROTC instructors” to act as “leave replacements” on a temporary basis under the guidance of the national program’s area manager. Neither Riley or Morales met the Navy’s criteria for the positions and the district sought permanent replacements following Mahala and McAllister’s resignations.

The board in October hired Navy Cdr. David Chiaro to fill the position of senior naval science instructor.

The Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program, (JROTC) is a U.S. military-sponsored program taught by retired and active military instructors that teaches student cadets military history, stresses military discipline and instills other military values. Students at high schools with JROTC programs are twice as likely to enlist in the U.S military after graduation, according to the military serving newspaper, Army Times. Riverhead participates in the Navy arm of the program.

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Alek Lewis is a lifelong Riverhead resident and a 2021 graduate of Stony Brook University’s School of Communication and Journalism. Previously, he served as news editor of Stony Brook’s student newspaper, The Statesman, and was a member of the campus’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Email: