Air Force JROTC has benefits in, out of classroom
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Across the country, Junior ROTC programs may seem to be all about preparation for military service, discipline and rigorous physical training.
But the true nature of the program is much broader and has far-reaching effects in the lives of students and their communities.
Maj. William "Doug" Park and Chief Master Sgt. Steve Pauley head up the Air Force JROTC program at Nitro High School, and they are using their combined 45 years' experience to make an impact on cadets both in and out of the classroom.
With only 10 percent of the 80 cadets in the program on a military track, the main objective of the JROTC program is to teach character development, life skills and citizenship, which are integrated into the Classroom Performance System curriculum.
"We use the military value system to teach the core values we enforce in our classroom; our motto is to build better citizens for America," Park said.
The curriculum for first-year students is dedicated to building leadership skills, while second- and third-year cadets focus on communication and life skills.
The senior class focuses on management principles, which help them understand and motivate people. Other course work includes aerospace science, space technology and civics.
"I really like the curriculum; I think it's very practical," Park said.
Flight Operations Commander and 1st Lt. Kristen Cash is a senior at Nitro. She said her grades have "tremendously improved" in the three years that she has been active in JROTC.
Giving back to the community is also a fundamental aspect of the JROTC program. Since August the cadets have put in more than 500 hours of community service.
Cadets regularly host a senior citizens dinner at the Nitro Moose Lodge, where they serve meals to the seniors. The JROTC color guard carries the flags at civic events and parades, and they helped open the Veterans Cemetery in Dunbar last spring.
First Lt. Brody Bowling said his favorite part of the program is the color guard. He said it was a privilege to participate in the opening of the Veterans Cemetery because of all the dignitaries who were present.
"It was a lot of fun, but it kind of made me nervous," he said.
In October of last year, cadets also participated in the 2012 Walk to End Alzheimer's at Appalachian Power Park in Charleston.
Cadets are required to wear uniforms to school once a week, which teaches them attention to detail, self-discipline and builds self-esteem. They also participate in after-school activities that draw upon the military value system.
Cadets often have drill and formation practice, where they learn to move together as one. Here they also learn discipline, teamwork, communication and assertiveness.
Every Friday, the students play a competitive sport during their physical education period. Parks explained that the goal is to help students improve their athleticism, which in turns boosts their confidence.
The JROTC operates within a structured hierarchy and each position has a job and a rank assigned to it. Cadets have the opportunity to move up in the rank structure by performing the tasks assigned to them.
To become an officer, cadets have to attend Leadership School for a week in the summer at Concord University in Athens, W.Va.
Here cadets have the opportunity to get a true military experience. They wake up at 5 a.m. for room inspection, and attend leadership and practical teambuilding exercises, in addition to participating in activities such as water survival.
Cadet Cmdr. Kenneth Adkins is one of few cadets with plans to pursue a military career, and he thinks that JROTC has given him a solid foundation that he can build upon while serving in the military.
"I believe it's taught me the discipline you would need to succeed in the military," Adkins explained. "We cover a great deal of drill and ceremony, and we have a structure, a chain of command, and you don't skip it, just like in the military."
The members of the program think of themselves as a family who work through practical problems and personal issues together.
Staff Sgt. Elizabeth White remembers when she was struggling with the death of her sister and Pauley and Park were there to help her get through it.
"We believe that in the teaching profession you are a role model before you are a teacher," Park said. Both he and Pauley consider it a duty and a privilege to be mentors to their students.
Park also noted that the JROTC appeals to a wide range of individuals.
"We've got a wide gamut of students; demographically they are a good representation of the school," he said.
This year, the program includes students who are also active in show choir, football, girl's basketball and band.
Brothers Chase and Brody Bowling are home schooled, and they come to the school just to participate in the program.
In the spring of 2012, Nitro's program was the only program in West Virginia to receive the Air Force Junior ROTC National Distinguished Unit Award with Merit, and it was only one of 100 units out of 882 eligible units worldwide.
This award recognizes units that have performed above and beyond normal expectations, and that have distinguished themselves through exemplary service to both their school and community.
"Chief and I are really proud of what they've done and how far they've come along," Park said, adding that their dedication and commitment played an integral part in receiving this award for the second year in a row.
Park and Pauley were also recognized for their efforts. Each received the National Outstanding AFJORTC Instructor award in 2011.
"Their leadership skills, and the fact that they're gentlemen makes for an exemplary program," Principal Diane Smith said.