Cadet Private Driver almost didn’t go on the John Marshall Community High School Army JROTC 15-mile overnight hike. Her aunt convinced her otherwise saying that when you commit to something, you follow through. So even though she was scared, she was committed and completed the hike with her Battalion.
That hike was a challenge for Driver, unlike other challenges a high school student may typically face, an exam, a sporting event, or even an arts competition. This was just one example of an event with the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC).
Around 800 Indianapolis Public Schools students at five high schools, Arsenal Tech, Crispus Attucks, George Washington, John Marshall and Northwest, are currently enrolled in JROTC programs. The JROTC mission is simple, “Motivate younger people to be better citizens,” and the five programs across the district have done just that.
“My freshman year was terrible,” says Cadet Lieutenant Colonel (C/LTC) Ramirez. “I had several bad influences. But I started to notice the JROTC kids on campus and thought ‘that looks cool. I want to wear that uniform and have a sense of pride.’”
Now Ramirez serves as the Battalion Commander, the highest position one can have, for the Titan Battalion at Arsenal Technical High School.
Ramirez isn’t the only student that has been motivated by the JROTC program. His story is simply one of many saying the same thing; JROTC makes you not only a better student, but also a better person.
Many think that JROTC is simply a feeder program for the military. But that’s not the case. Instructors are actually not allowed to recruit. It’s not their function. Their function is to fulfill the JROTC mission and motivate young people.
First Sergeant (Retired) Richard Woodcox served in the Army for 22 years before deciding to become an Army Instructor with JROTC. This is his fifteenth year serving with IPS JROTC and his fifth year as the Senior Army Instructor (SAI) at John Marshall.
1SG Woodcox is by every definition a motivator. He works alongside the students and describes himself as a “teenager at heart.” He strives to make sure his cadets are among the best in the district.
The same can be said for all the Senior Army Instructors in IPS.
“We bend over backwards to help everyone we can,” says Lieutenant Colonel (Retired) Clayton Edens, George Washington Community High School’s SAI. “The key to the mission is application.”
That application comes in many forms including discipline, responsibility, camaraderie and leadership.
JROTC is completely student-run. Higher ranking students work with their SAI to organize competition teams, lead instruction, plan Battalion activities and more.
Cadet First Lieutenant (C/1LT) Esparza of the Titan Battalion is in charge of the drill team. He likes working with the younger cadets in the unit.
“When you see someone who has struggled with a move finally do it right, it’s gratifying,” says Esparza.
The younger cadets look up to the older, higher ranking ones, and George Washington Continental Battalion Commander C/LTC Hopkins has noticed.
“It has made me become more organized and polite. I make sure to say ‘yes ma’am’ and ‘yes sir.’ I’m watching out for what I do because I know the younger cadets are watching,” says Hopkins.
It’s not just other cadets that are watching; it’s other students, teachers and community members.
JROTC Battalions often do 20-50 color guards a year at various events around town. They can also be spotted marching in the Veterans Day Parade and St. Patrick’s Day Parade among others.
Color Guards and parades aren’t the only places you’ll find the cadets. They also compete with other Battalions across the state in various competitions including drill, rifle and the Cadet Challenge.
Several Battalions also have an elite cadet group called “Raiders” where students do more physical activities, including hiking, canoeing and running. The Crispus Attucks Medical Magnet High School Raiders unit can often be found at practice with the varsity cross country or track teams.
“We do a lot of extracurriculars because it gives the kids an option,” says Colonel (Retired) Gerald Hadley SAI for Arsenal Tech. “Sometimes it’s hard to get them to leave at the end of the day!”
It’s this kind of dedication to the program that transcends from extracurricular activities to academics.
Good academic standing is important in JROTC. For the last five years the valedictorian at John Marshall has been a JROTC cadet. This year won’t be any different with the Patriot Battalion’s Battalion Commander and Command Sergeant Major slated to be valedictorian and salutatorian, respectively. There’s a similar situation at George Washington with Battalion Commander C/LTC Hopkins in line to be salutatorian.
Students also need to have good grades in order to participate in elite cadet groups like Raiders.
“Good students gravitate to JROTC,” says 1SG Woodcox. “It’s a place where they naturally fit in.”
The JROTC program is great for any high school student. As Northwest Pioneer Battalion member Cadet Major (C/MAJ) Mooney says, “It makes you feel like you’re part of something.”
And that can be said for not only the program but also the uniform, which students say is one of their favorite parts.
“It influences students to stay,” says Cadet Captain (C/CPT) Rogers from Titan Battalion. “[The uniform] motivates you to earn things, especially when you see upperclassmen more decorated.”
Many cadets mention the uniform and the discipline that comes with it as being part of the reason they joined the program. Still others say peers pressured them to sign up. They’re all quick to point out, however, that it’s “positive peer pressure.”
“JROTC is an aspiring program; it makes you a better citizen,” says C/LTC Woods of Patriot Battalion. “It keeps you off the street and on track to graduate.”
After graduating many students enlist in the military, and many more continue on to college. But what the students learn through JROTC carries on with them.
“The world would be a lot better if everyone had been in JROTC,” says C/MAJ Moore from Patriot Battalion.
We couldn’t agree more. JROTC is an amazing program that teaches students life-long values and principles. We couldn’t be prouder of our former and current cadets for their dedication to this program.