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Junior ROTC marches past misunderstandings

Todd Beamer High School
Todd Beamer High School's Junior ROTC drill teams practice marching about 6 a.m. March 6 in the school's gymnasium.
— image credit: Jacinda Howard/The Mirror

By JACINDA HOWARD, The Mirror

The power of a military uniform and focused studies can be seen in Air Force Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps students at Todd Beamer and Federal Way high schools.

The students learn life and leadership skills. Junior ROTC offers these students the chance to learn about aerospace, perfect their leadership abilities and explore career choices. But the students’ roles in their respective high schools and the community are often misunderstood, said students.

Between the schools, approximately 175 teenagers are involved in Junior ROTC this year. Both high schools started their programs three years ago. This version of ROTC, unlike the college version, does not require students to enroll in the Air Force or otherwise dedicate themselves to a military career, Todd Beamer Junior ROTC leader Sgt. Barry Jones said.

Bettering themselves:

The goal of Junior ROTC is “to provide (students) with the skills to make them better citizens,” Jones said.

The teenagers are taught communication, leadership, community service, problem-solving, discipline and etiquette abilities, he said. Students meet daily to learn and practice these talents.

They study aerospace and global issues in the classrooms. Students at Todd Beamer get the chance to practically fly an airplane through the use of a flight simulator. They also explore military and civilian careers.

Big dreams:

“I’ve always wanted to be a pilot,” Todd Beamer junior Anthony Hogan said.

Hogan plans to apply to the Air Force Academy next year. His peers have big plans as well. Todd Beamer senior Heather Miller was accepted into New Mexico Tech, a university specializing in science and engineering education.

Federal Way High School sophomore Kaylee Harris plans to enter the field of aerospace engineering. Fellow Junior ROTC student and junior McDivine Corpuz plans to work with explosives after she graduates high school.

Community involvement:

Outside the classrooms, the students perform community service and many engage in Junior ROTC activities, such as drill practices and meets.

Todd Beamer’s Junior ROTC cleaned the wetlands area behind the school on March 6. Federal Way’s group plans to volunteer at an orphanage soon, Harris said.

At drill meets, the teams answer global news questions and perform memorized marching routines, Jones said.

“We do march,” Jones said. “That’s part of learning discipline and pride in yourself.”

Individuals can earn awards, medals and recognition at the drill meets, he said. Some of these honors are displayed on the students’ uniforms, which both groups are required to wear to school once a week.

Peers take notice:

Every Thursday, the students dress in their blue slacks or skirts and blazers. The females wear their hair in a neat bun. Gleaming black shoes are required. The students are not hard to notice as they walk down the schools’ hallways. Some of them get teased lightly about their uniforms, said Master Sgt. Willie Smith of Federal Way’s Junior ROTC.

“We get head turns,” Federal Way High School senior Jamie Salunga said.

Students at both schools said their peers do not know much about the program.

“A lot of people don’t know what we do in ROTC,” Miller said.

Many assume the program’s students are subject to yelling and push-ups, Corpuz said.

“We are a community organization to build better citizens, not to recruit for the military,” Federal Way High School junior Kevin Singh said.

Staying focused:

But despite others’ opinions, both groups continue to dedicate hours of their lives to before- and after-school Junior ROTC engagements. Singh said he averages 25 hours per week on the program’s activities.

Though this is a time commitment for the students and holds them all to higher standards than their peers, the effort is worth it.

“It’s really a good program to help build leadership and character,” Hogan said. “You really find yourself.”

Contact Jacinda Howard: jhoward@fedwaymirror.com or (253) 925-5565.

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History lesson:

Junior ROTC began in 1911 with the Army Junior ROTC, said Master Sgt. Willie Smith of Federal Way’s Junior ROTC. In 1964, the passing of a public law required all branches of the military to offer their version of the program. In 1973, females were allowed into the Junior ROTC. Now, at both Federal Way High School and Todd Beamer High School, these young women are increasingly taking leadership and command roles, Smith said.

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