story by Brittany Shepard | photos by Drew Chapman
The Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) began nationally in 1916 as part of the National Defense Act with the goal to instill in secondary students the value of good citizenship and patriotism, service to the United States and personal responsibility.
The program, offered to high schools and some middles schools, is a federally funded partnership between the Army and the school systems. It is facilitated by retired military personnel. Instructors are employed by the school systems, and they teach character education, leadership, diversity and personal achievement in a more disciplined learning environment than the average school classroom setting.
A common misconception is that the JROTC is all about the military and encouraging students to enroll in military service, but students enrolled (called cadets) receive a comprehensive course of study that is not entirely focused on military service.
Each program, in cooperation with the school, has its own technology-driven and student-centered curriculum. Courses include subjects besides leadership and character education like physical fitness and overall wellness, civics, geography and more.
JROTC also serves as a way to inform young American men and women about the career opportunities available in the various branches of the United States Armed Forces. It is not designed to be a recruiting tool, but it does encourage instructors to actively assists cadets who desire to enlist in military service.
Overall, the success of the JROTC on a national level cannot be understated. Typically, the graduation rate of high school students enrolled in JROTC versus those of the average student is higher. Nationally, JROTC boasts a 98 percent graduation rate to the average 86 percent and less than 1 percent rate of dropout to the average 3 percent.
Three large schools in the Wiregrass have active and successful JROTC programs: Northview High School, Dothan High School and Enterprise High School.
Sergeant Major Ron Roland is a Senior Marine Instructor for JROTC at Northview High School in Dothan. A retired United States Marine with 30 years of service, Roland has served in numerous capacities in the Marine Corps and also served in the Vietnam War. He started teaching with the Marine Corps JROTC at Northview High School immediately upon retirement in December 1993.
Roland said that there are 115 cadets currently enrolled in JROTC at Northview High School. Not only do the cadets take the JROTC courses, but they also participate in many community activities and JROTC competitions. Cadets from Northview’s JROTC are often spotted performing color guard duties at municipal events as well as other events in the area.
Northview High is currently in the process of rebuilding their program to include the rifle team, unarmed and armed drill teams, a physical fitness team and an academic team.
“Due to the rebuilding and restructuring of our program, the only competition we will participate in is the National Guard Challenge in May this year at the Farm Center,” said Roland.
While they are currently not competing in many competitive events, cadets from Northview High have still received various awards and scholarships based on their achievements in the classroom and in JROTC. Several have been awarded scholarships to Troy University and Wallace Community College.
“Cadet Jeffery Yancey was this year’s recipient of the Chamber of Commerce Leadership Award for our program, and we often have outside organizations reward our cadets with various other awards for many different reasons.”
Often cadets have greater opportunities for scholarships and awards when enrolled in JROTC because many organizations focus on giving their scholarships to JROTC cadets.
“The most rewarding thing about teaching Marine Corps JROTC is watching our cadets graduate,” said Roland. “We get a mixture of cadets from various demographic and environmental backgrounds with all kinds of chips on their shoulders. To watch them mature into productive young citizens is more than words can describe. Changing even one young person’s negative attitude or disposition into something he or she is proud of makes teaching worthwhile.”
Dothan High School’s JROTC program is led by Chief Warrant Officer 4 Robert Irvin, retired from nearly 25 years in the U.S. Army, and Sergeant Major Ronald Adams, who served nearly 27 years in the Alabama Army National Guard. Irvin served in multiple combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan along with several humanitarian aid tours while Adams spent much of his time with the Alabama National Guard on active duty. He retired as the Operations Sergeant Major for the State of Alabama in 2012.
Currently, there are 171 cadets enrolled in JROTC at Dothan High School. The cadets at Dothan High participate in a variety of community activities. They often march in parades and offer flag detail to local events. Dothan High JROTC also has a drill team. One of the things they do that their instructors are proud of is a steak plate sale twice a year for a JROTC fundraiser.
“We sell over 2800 steak plates for our fundraiser,” said Adams. “It is good for the cadets because they get a completely different outlook having to work hard to reach a goal that benefits them and the program.”
Overall the goal of instructors Irvin and Adams is to motivate young people to be better citizens. Both instructors feel that their position as a role model to the cadets is the most important part of their jobs.
“The future lies in the hands of the new generation,” said Irvin. “We must always strive to set good examples and show that even if you’re from a very small town, the only limits of your accomplishments rest on your imagination and the effort you put in to make dreams a reality.”
Adams said that the most rewarding thing about being a JROTC instructor is knowing that you have been a role model to the young cadets and has enjoyed the opportunity to motivate, mentor and coach them.
“Personally, I find it to be very rewarding to see young people make well-informed, positive decisions about life choices,” said Adams. “Being a JROTC instructor at Dothan High has resulted in many of those rewarding experiences. I utilize my experiences as a Senior Noncommissioned Officer, a father and a man of faith to help my students, and I want to encourage cadets to grow through education and personal development.”
Enterprise High School also has an active JROTC with over 200 cadets. Lieutenant Colonel George W. Clark retired in 2005 from the Army after 24 years of service. He became involved with JROTC at Enterprise High School that year and serves as the Senior Army Instructor.
“The vast majority of our cadets are part of our ‘Regular Corp,” said Clark. “Although this is the noncompetitive side of our program, these cadets represent the Corps of Cadets in numerous community service events annually. Through their participation in JROTC, our cadets develop their leadership potential, improve their physical fitness and are provided education in citizenship. We intend to enhance their life skills and strengthen their self-esteem.”
The Corps of Cadets at Enterprise High have received accolades from both local and state businesses and government agencies for their service to community and their accomplishments inside and outside of the classroom.
“Recently, 140 [Enterprise] cadets completed Community Emergency Response Team training through the Coffee County EMA,” said Clark. “Cadets were taught subjects ranging from first aid, firefighting, cribbing and triage operations.”
Sixty-two cadets from Enterprise High participate on one of their competitive teams including male and female Drill Team (Blue Knights and Belles of the Blue Knights), Rifle Team, Physical Fitness Team and the Leadership and Academic Team.
These cadets have been recognized with numerous awards and accolades this school year including ranking 41st overall in the National Drill Team Competition, competing with over 1500 other programs. Their Wildcat Rifle team ranked 8th overall at the National JROTC Championships.
According to Clark the most rewarding part about being involved with JROTC at Enterprise is seeing the young men and women of the Wildcat Battalion represent their unit, their school and their community with dignity and pride.
All in all, the JROTC program at all schools is about building good character and citizenship and helping cadets become better individuals. Much of the focus is helping cadets see their own potential and helping them build a better future for themselves.
JROTC works to teach cadets to live with integrity, to engage in the community, to graduate from high school with a plan for post-secondary education or a future career, to make good decisions for their lives and to value the role of the military and other organizations within society.