Wearing tennis shoes and slightly large head gear, 295 cadets from Muscogee and surrounding counties learned teambuilding and problem-solving skills June 8 at Fort Benning's Leadership Reaction Course. For many of the cadets, the camp was their first time on a military installation.

Tyshawnda Facison, a 15-year-old sophomore from Eastman, Ga., said she was slightly intimidated once she came through the gate for the first time, but her feelings changed once she started training.

"It has been fun," she said. "I really want to be in the Army, and I'm ready to wear the uniform."

Facison said she followed her older sister's lead into JROTC after hearing her stories. She said the program has helped her be a leader.

"I'm dedicated to JROTC," she said. "I love it, and I'm even willing to give up part of my summer for it."

Connor Jennings, a senior who is heading into his fourth year of JROTC, said his Fort Benning experience exceeded the previous summer camp he attended at a Boy Scout camp.

"I'm honored to be a part of this," he said. Jennings plans to pursue Air Force ROTC in college and become a special investigations officer. He said JROTC has prepared him for that and other life experiences.

"When (I) go into the military, (I) won't be some random dude who doesn't know what he's doing," Jennings said. "The main mission of JROTC is to motivate young people to be better citizens, and that, in and of itself, helps not just with preparing you for the Army, but also for real life."

Each summer, students from across the state participate in the week-long cadet leadership course and learn skills from how to march to overcoming fears. A second cycle of cadets from the Atlanta area also completed the course June 14-18. In addition to the Leadership
Reaction Course, they exited the airborne school's 34-foot tower and did physical training at Smith Gym.

MAJ(R) James Dal Ponte, senior Army instructor for nine years at Shaw High School in Columbus, said even though the cadets sacrifice some of their summer, the students are always excited about volunteering for the camp.

Dal Ponte, who served in the Army 24 years, was the safety officer for the camp, which included 20 area high schools in the Muscogee County area and ran June 7-11.

"This develops self-esteem, and it's a good social experience because they meet other kids from all walks of life," Dal Ponte said.

The cadets, who range in age from 15 to 18, slept in dorms at Columbus State University.

Dal Ponte said JROTC doesn't emphasize steering them into the military.

"That's not even in our mission statement," he said. "It's just a great program for young people. It helps them with school, and we have a very high graduation rate."

To attend the camp, students are selected by teachers and staff for a limited number of slots.

"For some, this is the only vacation they will have this summer," he said. "They love it."

The camps conclude with a closing ceremony on the final day.

Page last updated Fri June 18th, 2010 at 09:30