It is Citizenship Training, Not Recruitment

By Major Van Harl, USAF Ret.

The 97th Air Mobility Wing at Altus AFB was holding its annual award winners dinner. All the officers, enlisted members and civilians who were the best in their category for 2006 were recognized. But, from the perspective of an old Air Force Junior ROTC instructor, the rifle drill team from Altus High School stole the show.

These were high school boys, looking very much like young Airmen, who put on an outstanding display of precision marching and rifle drill demonstration. There was no doubt these Cadets had put in many hard, after school hours of intense practice. Being on a rifle drill team is above and beyond the requirements for being in the Junior ROTC program.

Besides the very impressive skills these Cadets demonstrated that evening, more importantly it was the commitment to excel that was the standout feature of the evening. If you have been to an Altus High School football game or city parade you have seen the Junior ROTC color guard performing. You have to do a double take to find the Junior ROTC patches on their uniform shoulders to realize these extremely impressive Cadets are in fact high school students and not active duty Airmen--they look and perform that professionally.

I was just reviewing some pictures of a sentry on duty at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington Cemetery. It struck me that some of the Altus Junior ROTC cadets could hold their own marching that honored post.

Then I read that the San Francisco school board has voted to remove the Junior ROTC programs at their seven high schools. They have 1600 Cadets in their program. Try doing away with the sports program at a high school and see what happens. Besides the upset students and parents complaining about not seeing football or basketball being played on campus, what do you use to fill the void in student enrichment that you have created?

Cadet/students and parents were in tears at the school board meeting when the vote to kill the Junior ROTC program was announced. One board member stated "we need to teach a curriculum of peace." I can only assume this person believes that Junior ROTC is going to turn all its cadets into Rambos. She, of course, is very wrong.

High school Junior ROTC is a citizenship program, not a military recruitment trick to spirit away young men and women to the killing fields of the world. The first thing you need to understand is that very few former Junior ROTC Cadets actual enlist in the military. It is approximately five percent of these cadets who go into the service.

As a Junior ROTC instructor I had to be careful about presenting the military as a wonderful cure-all for my Cadets and their life's problems. Many high school students simply will never be able to join the military, but as an instructor you do not want to dash their hopes in life.

The obese Cadet who will never loose the weight, the Cadet with asthma or diabetes who is not physically qualified, these students will not be members of the military, but they still need to be productive in their life and society. You don't want to drive them away from a program that truly is good for them even though they will never enlist.

Again, we are trying to develop good citizens in the Junior ROTC program, not fill the military recruiters' quota. Now do not get me wrong, the Department of Defense is hoping that some of the Cadets who are exposed to the military will in fact join; however, the actual numbers are very low. We have a very large military and we need qualified new members.

I continue to meet parents who did not want their children to join the military after high school. But, now that these adult children are still living at home and amounting to nothing, those same parents would love to see their offspring join the Army.

Be careful what you do not wish for, for your children. For some Cadets the Junior ROTC program is the only structured program in their lives after school lets out. We talk about our extended military family in the Air Force. That extended family support can also be found in some Junior ROTC programs. It is about citizenship, it is about growing students into good productive adults. San Francisco has it wrong. Altus Junior ROTC understands the positive way to guide students. Aim very high.

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Copyright 2007 by Major Van Harl USAF Ret. All rights reserved.