In the history of Sachem, only a handful of teachers and administrators made the jump from military service to the educational world. Ken Costa is one of those fine individuals.
A graduate of Walt Whitman High School, Costa remembers growing up being destined to serve in the United States Marines.
"I always knew deep down in my heart that I had to be a Marine," he said from his office at Sachem High School North, where he has served as an assistant principal since 2007. "It's the only thing I ever really knew, that I had to do it."
After school as a youngster, he'd watch documentaries about the Armed Forces. It made him realize he was cut out to serve his nation.
"I'd hear the Marine Corps hymn and it sent shivers down my spine," he said proudly, speaking with Marines' flags and decals positioned around his office.
The son of a Vietnam veteran – his dad Ken was an Army Green Beret – Costa was never pushed to join the military. It was a personal interest developed by playing solider as a kid and running around the woods acting out combat moves. The documentaries aided in his choice, plus his grandfather served in the Navy, his brother was in the Army, his uncle was a Marine in Korea and now his father-in-law was in the Air Force.
A football, wrestler and lacrosse player at Whitman, he said his best moment in lacrosse happened at Sachem in Lake Ronkonkoma when he aggressively stopped former Arrows athlete John Carvalheira on an offensive drive in a quarterfinal playoff game.
He played a year at Nassau County Community College, and then joined the Marines through a delayed entry program. In July 1991 he left for boot camp in Paris Island, S.C.
After a week he, "fell in love with it," he said. "I enjoyed the challenge."
He graduated first in his class and was meritoriously promoted three times in his 10-year tenure, which saw him go through active duty and reserves.
He came off active duty to attend Salisbury College in Maryland, maintained his reserve status and played a year of lacrosse for the Seagulls. He figured he'd bounce back to active duty and serve as an officer, but things changed when he swallowed the bug to get involved in politics.
A political science major, he interned for an assemblyman in the Maryland State General Assembly, quickly learning that politics weren't for him.
"I didn't like the fakeness of it," said Costa, who left the reserves in 2000 and reached his final rank of Sergeant.
While in the reserves, he spent eight months in El Salvador, which had gone through a period of revolutionary war, and helped teach proper procedures with radio etiquette and patrolling. He was also stationed in Norway for a month, taking part in a mock war, which involved jets, tanks and infantry battles. It marked the first time since World War II that Germany had troops on Norwegian soil.
He was also part of Joint Taskforce 6, which is a Joint Forces Command component that provides Department of Defense counter-drug support for federal, regional, state and local law enforcement agencies throughout the United States.
"It was border patrol all night long," he said. "We stood by in case it got crazy."
Costa decided to enter the field of education and received his Master's Degree from Dowling College and administrative degree from Touro College. His original teaching assignment was in Brentwood, where he taught social studies and eventually was promoted to dean of students. From there he served as an assistant principal at Connetquot, then in the same role at Patchogue-Medford and then came to Lake Ronkonkoma.
While at Pat-Med, he was struck by the schools catwalk like structure that reminded him of the Pearl Harbor Memorial in Hawaii. After an attempt to build a monument at that school to honor soldiers, nothing came to fruition and he took at job at Sachem shortly after.
He brought the same mentality with him.
"We honor everybody in education," he said, "the musicians, the athletes, the thespians, the academics. We honor everyone, but we never take time to honor the regular kid that goes into the service. This is a very ungrateful nation these days, so we need something to really thank those who served."
Enter the United States Armed Forces Dedication Garden at Sachem North. Costa was a driving force behind the Freshman Class Legacy Project, which was completed this past May.
There is a fine balance between once being trained for combat and molding the minds of today's youth. Costa has lived both lives.
"Every leader has an innate ability to lead, it's just how it's refined," he said. "The Marine Corps helped refine it for me. I had to be a Marine. I had the drive and tenacity and that transcends to this work at Sachem."