JROTC experience
Jessica Melendez, a student at Wichita Falls High School, gets into position to descend the 12-foot high mini wall at the Treadwell Tower training complex May 31. Forty-nine Junior ROTC students trained at Fort Sill for one week.

FORT SILL, Okla.-- Forty-nine northern Texas high school students took a closer step to realizing what life in the military could be like as Junior ROTC cadets visited Fort Sill May 28 - June 1.

Lt. Col. Charlie Simons, Wichita Falls Independent School District JROTC director, led the mostly freshmen cadet contingent that made stops at the Team Development, Combat Conditioning and Confidence Obstacle courses.

"Fort Sill has always been great in getting us access to various parts of post," said Simons. "This trip gives these kids an opportunity to see what's going on and motivates them so they may stay in Junior ROTC a little longer."

Their foray into Army life continued May 31, when Simons led them to the bi-monthly Fort Sill retirement ceremony at the Old Post Quadrangle.

"I believe it's important they see retiring Soldiers, see the length of time they served, where they've been, their highest awards and such," said the colonel. "It's important they know people appreciate this commitment of the men and women who choose to serve their country."

The cadets also visited post museums and saw the ordnance simulations center.

Treadwell Tower's daunting face confronted the cadets, their last location visited May 31. Literally a highlight of the trip, cadets faced the lofty structure and conquered their fears and self-doubts as they clambered up its side and slid down rappel ropes to the ground.

Simons said many of the cadets reach even higher goals as many one day enlist in the five military service branches. Some even accept appointments to the Army, Navy or Air Force service academies.

"Working with these kids keeps me young," said the 65-year-old, "my wife once asked me when I was going to retire, I told her I did that once and didn't like it."

One of the few upper classmen who made the daily trips to Fort Sill, Chris Lewis, a Hershey High School junior in the fall, said the training was great, but throughout his eyes were set on the Treadwell pinnacle.

"I'm ready to go rappelling it's something I've waited for all week," he said. Later all that youthful energy and enthusiasm nearly propelled him to the summit as Lewis hustled up the rope and vertical ladder with nary a thought to the heights he scaled.

Though he still needs to take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test, he said he hopes to one day drive tanks for the Army.

Perhaps one day Alexis Skates will accept an Army leadership position. The 15-year-old, who will be a Hershey High School junior this fall, hopes to earn an ROTC scholarship, go to college and get her degree, then go into the Air Force or Army. She said Junior ROTC has helped her and her classmates with their personal and academic development.

"Junior ROTC motivates us to be better people and gets us ready for life even if some students don't go into the military. It teaches responsibility and discipline," she said.

Skates arrived at Treadwell Tower intent to face her fears. She said she was extremely afraid of heights. Although she managed to get down the pre-tower descent of a 12-foot mini wall, she did not attempt Treadwell. Still, she is encouraged that the Army is opening new career fields to women.

"I believe women can do anything men can do if they put in a lot of effort," she said.

Like Simons who has seen 21 years of JROTC cadets, Command Sgt. Maj. J.D. Martin can count 15 years developing high school students in what he called a rewarding job.

Martin cited five military academy appointments, 18 senior ROTC appointments and 140 students who joined the military as proof of JROTC's impact on teenage students.

"Hershey serves low to middle income families, and the military is a great option for many of these students to either enlist and get some college money or maybe get out of a bad situation," he said.

For those cadets who do go onto enlisted service, JROTC students who have completed two years enter the military one rank higher than basic pay. Those with three years enter two ranks higher.

"If they make a commitment, I'm not too worried about them because they've already had a pretty good taste of what life in the military is all about," he said.

For those who don't make a commitment, Martin said JROTC is a better way to find out about a possible mismatch with military life than finding out in basic training.

Looking off with memories of his past, Martin said he served as a drill sergeant in the 1980s in the area close to Treadwell Tower.

"Junior ROTC is not for everybody. You wear a uniform four days week, they still watch our weight, and it's a lot like still being in the military in many ways. This has been 40 years for me, and a lot of haircuts, but I still enjoy it," he said.

If Hollywood decided to turn an Aesop fable into a movie, Lewis would be a natural as the hare. His counterpoint, Arnaldo Medina, a recent sophomore at Wichita Falls High School, would be the slow moving tortoise.

However, in this case, who arrived first was irrelevant. What mattered is both reached their intended destination the bottom of Treadwell Tower. Better yet, they did so safely.

Medina sought out motivation from a cadet, and friend of his, standing in line in front of him. He determined if his friend scaled Treadwell, he would, too. This despite the fact that, like Skates, Medina and heights mix about like the Hatfields and the McCoys.

"He chickened out, and though I was really scared at first and almost quit, I made it to the top," said the understated Medina.

His first stop happened about halfway up the rope climb that required him to pull hand-over-hand up a rope to a next higher wood rung. Clutching the wood frame and peering down, Medina stood about eight feet above the roughly 3-foot thick safety pads that protect Soldiers who fall off during their attempted tower ascent.

He achieved his first minor victory reaching the top of the rope with the roughly 55 remaining feet being a ladder of sorts that required hand and leg movements to rise gradually up the tower. Again, he frequently froze and refused to go higher despite the loud calls of encouragement from fellow cadets down on the ground.

At that point, Martin ascended up to Medina, and thus motivated, the two made reasonably quick work of the remaining rungs.

Medina's ordeal was nearly over. Securely roped into his rappel harness, he lay atop the tower probing with one leg seeking the ledge from which he would stand on prior to rappelling back to earth. Time and again, his toe stopped perhaps one or two inches from the ledge, and he would pull back. But, Medina did conquer his fears and stepped down to the ledge.

"Once I got on the wall it wasn't that bad," he said.

Safely back on the ground, relieved and happy to achieve his goal, Medina encouraged those reluctant or fearful cadets who may follow in his footsteps.

"I'm pretty sure if I got through it they could," he sighed with relief.

Page last updated Thu June 7th, 2012 at 12:49