No. 559



After graduating from high school, I went to college for a couple of years but did not graduate. Back then I used to tell folks that my degree was ROTC, which stood for Right Off the Top of the Cultivator. Of course, now that I have gotten older and more sophisticated, I don't tell folks that anymore.
If you have been around for any length of time you know that traditionally the letters ROTC stand for Reserve Officers Training Corps. To carry this thought a step further, there is also a Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps, where high school students can participate in a military style program that teaches character, teamwork, leadership, discipline and patriotism.
A few weeks ago I was watching the evening news on a Little Rock television station and I saw a feature story that really inspired me. It was a story, complete with interviews, of the Air Force Junior ROTC (AFJROTC) program at nearby Beebe High School. As I listened to the instructor, SMSgt (Ret) Wayne Trout Jr. and students Cheyenne Stephens and Dustin Lavender tell about this program and what it meant to them, I knew that I wanted to learn a lot more about it. Since Beebe is only 35 miles from my home, I called Sgt. Trout and asked if he would visit with me and share some information that I might be able to pass along to you.
One of the things that my time with Sgt. Trout, and some of his students, cleared up for me is the misconception that many people have about this program. Many people believe the purpose of a JROTC program is to prepare young people to go into the military, and nothing could be further from the truth. After leaving high school, only a very small percentage of students go into the military. The major purpose is to develop better citizens. I might add, the other branches of the service, Navy, Army, Marines and Coast Guard, also have Junior ROTC programs.
If you don't have a Junior ROTC program in your schools, after you hear what I am going to say you might want to consider it. This program is available to students from the 9th through 12th grades and does not discriminate on the basis of race, sex, religion, color or national origin. The AFJROTC program at Beebe High School has been in existence since 2001 and has about 130 students enrolled. These students march in parades and make other public appearances, and Sgt. Trout told me their "Color Guard" has displayed the colors about 25 times at various events this school year. He said they looked so sharp when they came to an event to present the colors, that members of the audience would often give them applause.
When I asked him the benefits of having a JROTC program, he said, "Pride of belonging for the students and also community pride." He went on to say that most communities are patriotic, all should be, and these students have a better opportunity to grow up and become great citizens. The three primary objectives of the program are: 1. Integrity. 2. Service before self. 3. Excellence in all we do. When you consider young people growing up in today's culture, here is a positive experience that can make a tremendous difference in each of their lives.
What this program really does is teach accountability and responsibility. Instructors like Sgt. Wayne Trout can take a group of students from the rank and file and teach them, over time, to conduct themselves in a professional manner as they learn to perform as a unit. Here is the point. When they are marching as a unit, if just one student is out of step, everyone knows it. No waiting. Learning to stay in step in JROTC will help them stay in step for the important challenges that will come down the road. A really great program.
(EDITOR'S NOTE: Jim Davidson is a motivational speaker and syndicated columnist. You may contact him at 2 Bentley Drive, Conway, Ark. 72034. To support literacy, buy his book, "Learning, Earning & Giving Back.")