Docked in the waters of Pearl Harbor is an impressive warship named the USS Reuben James (FFG-57). This is a fast frigate guided missile ship, which is navy-speak for “fast ship, big guns, we’re coming to get you”! But what makes this ship so unique to all of us here on Long Island is its’ ties to the Long Island Junior Soccer League.
The Operations Officer on the ship is Deer Park’s own Lt. Jeanine Benjamin, an Annapolis graduate and currently 3rd in command on the Reuben James. Jeanine grew up playing soccer in the LIJSL and was a standout soccer player at St. Anthony’s HS when she met LIJSL Director of College Bound programs Pat Grecco.
“Jeanine was interested in attending the United States Naval Academy, and I developed a relationship with her,” Pat says now. “Even back then, Jeanine was such an impressive young lady, both as a student and an athlete. My son had also gone to St. Anthony's and played soccer, and when I met Jeanine he was still at the academy playing soccer, so I had a good feeling that she would be an excellent fit for the academy.”
Pat was right. Upon graduation from Annapolis, Jeanine was selected for the Nuclear Program, which is an assignment typically reserved for the most intelligent graduates. In that capacity she has served ashore and afloat with many deployments on various aircraft carriers, which are nuclear ships. Eventually, she landed her current leadership position on the James Reuben.
At this point, you’re probably thinking this is a very nice story about an LIJSL alum - but there’s more.
Although she did not play at Annapolis (she played club lacrosse), Jeanine’s love for soccer is still evident in her involvement with her current ship’s soccer program. She was recently put in charge of the Reuben James’ soccer team, which plays in the Pacific Fleet League. Short on uniforms for a roster of players who are making minimum salary, Jeanine once again reached out to her friend Pat with an e-mail asking for help.
Pat contacted Beth Scafuri (Director of the Exceptional HS Seniors Program), and LIJSL Executive Director Joan Czach to see if the league could help. They found extra unused uniforms and a week later two full sets of socks, shirts, and shorts (home and away colors) were on their way to Hawaii. Jeanine was kind enough to send back a framed photo of the team in their new threads, with a thank you note from her commanding officer, and commemorative USS Reuben James coins that will be proudly displayed in the LIJSL office in Ronkonkoma.
“We are so proud of Jeanine and all of our military personnel around the world for all they do for our country,” said LIJSL President Addie Mattei-Iaia. “Though this was just a small token of our appreciation, it was the least we could do for them in return for the courage and bravery they display in their work every single day.”
So we hope the entire league will join us in saying good luck to Lt. Jeanine Benjamin and the sailors of the USS Reuben James! May their new colors say, “fast feet, nice uni’s, we’re coming to get you!”