ROBERTSDALE — In recent years, the Robertsdale High School JROTC program has won numerous awards, introduced students to new opportunities and given cadets the chance to participate in a number …
ROBERTSDALE — In recent years, the Robertsdale High School JROTC program has won numerous awards, introduced students to new opportunities and given cadets the chance to participate in a number of events and competitions.
Currently, there are approximately 150 students involved with the program. Of these students, roughly 100 are enrolled at Robertsdale High School, while the remaining 50 come from Elberta High School.
Program instructors Commander Frank Starr and First Sgt. Charles Aguilar recently discussed the successes, future and highlights of the RHS JROTC program.
Awards, accolades and achievements
In the last year alone, the RHS JROTC cadets saw success in multiple events and competitions nationwide. These included:
"We don't deserve a pat on the back for what these students do so much, we just help them get that pat on the back," Starr said. "We have some really good kids here who are trying to do good things with their lives, and it's a good program. We don't get a lot of varsity athletes, so for a lot of them this is their chance to come here and be part of a team."
Last summer, cadets attended four summer camps, all with different offerings.
The first was a Basic Leadership Training camp in Tennessee, a boy scout camp where the cadets went whitewater rafting, ziplining and competed in marksmanship, drills, academics and orienteering.
Next the cadets went to Camp Shelby in Mississippi, though this one was different than the first.
"That's Leadership Academy," Starr said. "To go there you have to be able to pass a physical fitness test and you're going to have to be an upperclassman, a rising junior or rising senior. The other camps are more team building with some minor leadership development, but Leadership Academy is all about leadership. It's all business."
The third camp was in Florida and the final camp was at Springhill College. Both were Basic Leadership Training camps.
"In the past year we had around 3,000 hours of community service," Starr said. "We have a lot of activities going on."
The cadets actively volunteer during community events including the rodeo hosted by the Robertsdale Rotary Club and Veterans Day. Starr said the school has had to move their Veterans Day ceremony a day early to leave the JROTC cadets free to assist with other ceremonies around the area.
Cadets perform flag retirements, visit retirement homes and have formed a Youth Task Force to assist with multiple tasks at The Lighthouse in Robertsdale.
More than a recruitment effort
A misconception Starr often sees is that JROTC is nothing but a recruitment effort to get students to join the military. While some students do plan for a future in the military, Starr said that's far from the only offering.
"A lot of the time people think of our program, and they think I'm a recruiter, but I'm not. I'm a certified schoolteacher," he said. "I'm not in the Navy, I just used to be in the Navy. Charles just used to be in the Marines. So, we have an affection for what we did and the organization we belong to and our country, but it's not our job to get these kids to go into the military. Our job here is this congressionally mandated citizenship program. Our job is to make these kids productive members of society once they leave us when they turn 18."
Starr said while the military isn't for everybody, some students do plan to join. To that end, students will be introduced to recruiters who can show them what all is offered in the military and options they have. For those not planning to enlist, Starr said they will form connections with the recruiters.
"So why be in this program?" Starr asked. "Where else are you going to go to get the chance to learn about CyberPatriot defense, to learn about robotics, to learn drills, to join an athletics team or an academic team, orienteering, shooting? where else are you going to get to do all that in one class? And if you do come in and you do want to go into the military, then you can go in with extra stripes and pay for having been in this class. So, there's a lot of opportunities for kids, it just depends on what you're looking for.
"We try to get our kids here ready, that's a big part of our program. To get them ready to go out there and face the world," he said. "It can be a great thing, but it's just like anything else. You've got to take something from it."