The commandant at St. John’s Military School is essential to the personal development and leadership growth of its cadets. It is a role that Sgt. Maj. Ray Nunweiler takes seriously, and is embracing with an open mind and a dedicated heart as he begins the next phase of his career. This fall, St. John’s welcomed the sergeant major and his wife, Michele, to the St. John’s family.
The Commandant as Mentor and Leader
The commandant at St. John’s Military School is responsible for leading the corps of cadets, serving as a mentor, enforcing school policies, and ensuring the cadets hold themselves to the highest possible standards.
When asked what is means to him to assume the role of commandant at St. John’s, Nunweiler speaks with unassuming enthusiasm.
“It’s incredible and humbling at the same time,” he said. “Being able to work with young men who will be the leaders of tomorrow is incredibly rewarding.”
After retiring from the Army Rangers, Nunweiler served in law enforcement for seven years prior to accepting the position at St. John’s. As a man who has served his country and his community for the entirety of his career, a transition to the field of education was a seamless fit.
“I’ve always believed that education is the baseline for every action,” he said. “Everyone has to be educated to make the best decisions they can.”
It is for Nunweiler’s humble leadership style that that he was personally selected by St. John’s president, Col. William Clark.
“The role of commandant at St. John’s is about standards,” explained Clark. “The commandant has to be the standard bearer for the school. The role is about helping people to realize that if you learn to discipline yourself, you gain freedom. You have to enforce standards from a position of empathy, though. You have to be understanding and compassionate. How you correct people when they don’t meet the standard is important, and how you reward or acknowledge the standard is just as important. Ray is a man who has the right character and temperament to develop young men into the leaders of tomorrow. He is absolutely the right man for the position.”
The Decision to Lead
The decision to accept Clark’s offer was one that Nunweiler discussed with his wife Michele, a woman who has supported her husband throughout every step of their lives together.
“When Ray told me about the opportunity, I said ‘Let’s do it. It sounds perfect for you,’” Michele said. “Any time Ray has had an opportunity to change his career, like when he’s gone from the Army into law enforcement, I’ve told him, ‘It’s your decision, but whatever you want to do, I’ll support it.’”
After only a few weeks at St. John’s, Sgt. Maj. Nunweiler is confident that his decision was the right decision, just as his wife knew it would be. He has also found himself extremely impressed by the school’s current leadership. He has been equally impressed by the dedication of the 130th Corps of Cadets, and their executive leaders.
“The educators and military staff are all dedicated to the cadets first and foremost, which is exactly where their focus needs to be,” he said. “This year’s cadet leadership staff are very intelligent and want to do what’s best for the school and their fellow cadets.”
Retired Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Mark Giles, who has recently accepted the position of deputy commandant at St. John’s, and will serve alongside Nunweiler, sees in him the same leadership skills and high moral character that made himClark’s choice for the commandant.
“Sgt. Maj. Nunweiler brings a huge amount of leadership to the table and is a man to emulate,” he said.
Leading with Discipline and Compassion
In his first year as commandant, Nunweiler plans to help the cadets develop their own leadership skills. In reflecting on the school’s leadership philosophy, the commandant’s words echo those of the president’s. “I want the cadets to understand that if you give someone a task, it has to have a purpose, and that purpose has to support the five pillars of St. John’s. I want to help them to understand that discipline allows freedom. If you are disciplined in all aspects of your life, sports, family, and school, you will have more freedom to make more choices in your life.”
Michele Nunweiler is confident that the cadets will benefit from her husband’s empathetic and understanding nature.
“Ray understands that these cadets are still boys,” she said. “He is compassionate but in a disciplined kind of way. Ray would never ask any of the cadets to do anything that he wouldn’t do himself. He’d crawl through the mud with them, though. He is that kind of man and has always been that kind of leader.”
In his initial interactions with his new commandant, Cadet 2nd Lt. Robert Conde-Reed, a junior in his sixth year at St. John’s, has observed the exact style of disciplined, but compassionate leadership that Michele mentions.
“The first time I saw Sgt. Maj. Nunweiler walking through the barracks, I was intimidated by the way he carries himself,” said Conde-Reed. “But then I realized it’s not intimidation. He’s a very kind and caring man. “The role of commandant at St. John’s is important because without him, the school couldn’t run,” said Conde-Reed. “Sgt. Maj. Nunweiler is the right fit because he deals with the cadets in a very caring manner. When he talks to you, he does it as an authority, but he understands how we work. He understands that we’re not soldiers, but that we’re teenagers and we’re going to make mistakes, but he wants to help us succeed.”
The Newest Members of the St. John’s Family
As Sgt. Maj. and Mrs. Nunweiler embark on a new and exciting phase of their lives, they both look with optimism to the future, and with appreciation for being part of the St. John’s family.
“It feels awesome to be part of St. John’s,” said Sgt. Maj. Nunweiler. “This school has such a family atmosphere. Everyone, and not just the adult leaders and staff, but the cadets, have already brought us into the family.”
“I’m looking forward to having all the cadets over for dinner,” said Michele, adding with a laugh, “Well, not all at once. That’s a lot of cooking! The cadets are wonderful to watch. They’re brilliant, wonderful young men. I can’t wait to see how they evolve over time. It’s exciting to be here.”