News

ROTC flies into Federal Way high schools

By MIKE HALLIDAY

The Mirror

High school students in the Federal Way Public Schools will have an opportunity to see the wild blue yonder next fall.

Two Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) programs will open in the district –– one at Federal Way High and another at Todd Beamer.

With Boeing and many other companies around Puget Sound involved in the aerospace industry, having the programs in Federal Way seemed a good plan, said Lt. Col. Randy Long, who will supervise the Federal Way High program.

Apparently, this is first time in the district’s history an ROTC program has been at a campus. About 50 students are signed up at Federal Way, and registration will continue to the first day of school in September.

The Beamer program is still in the works, and the commanding officer hasn’t arrived. Long said he doesn’t know how many students will be enrolled there.

Long, retired C-130 pilot, grew up in the area and decided to become a teacher after serving 20 years in the Air Force.

Enrolling in JROTC doesn’t mean a student signs over the next few years of their life to the Air Force. But between 15 and 20 percent of the students choose to go active-duty after graduation, according to Long.

Those students who decide the Air Force is the direction to go after high school will have an advantage over others who enlist. They will be two pay grades higher than their peers and more familiar with the Air Force.

“They’re starting right off the bat ahead of their contemporaries,” Long said.

Students have typically signed up in groups; one friend enrolls and a few others join after hearing about the program, Long said.

Classes for JROTC cover citizenship, community service and military history, traditions and protocol. Students also learn some basic aeronautical science.

An enlisted member of the Air Force, a senior master sergeant, will assist at both high schools.

There are more than 740 Air Force JROTC programs nationwide, according to the Air Force. Congress limits the number nationally.

Outside of Federal Way, the nearest local Air Force ROTC programs are in Pierce County at Washington High School in Parkland, Foss High School in Tacoma and Clover Park High School in Lakewood.

Districts can request a unit in one of their schools, but the Air Force reserves the right to grant one.

According to Federal Way district spokeswoman Debra Stenberg, the ROTC programs give students another option for planning their futures. The district decided ROTC was a good investment that would have the best results compared to alternatives.

Having a JROTC program takes more than picking up the phone and placing an order. The military considers whether the program will succeed based on student population and interest, Long said. Each unit is reviewed by the Air Force to determine if it will remain open the next school year.

The Air Force and the Federal Way district will split the costs of instructors’ salaries –– about $170,000 . Long is an employee of the district, but the Air Force pays half of his salary. The military also covers the costs of the program’s honor guard and field trips, like one planned for the Museum of Flight at Boeing Field.

Long said several people want to speak to the students during the school year, including a test pilot and a composites engineer.

Staff writer Mike Halliday: 925-5565, mhalliday@fedwaymirror.com

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