Jackson JROTC
A Jackson Public Schools Cadet works her way across single-rope bridge Tuesday that is part of a larger high-ropes course at Fort Knox, Ky. Photo by Rae Emary/Leader's Training Course public affairs

FORT KNOX, Ky. -- After a 10-hour trip from Mississippi to Fort Knox, Ky., a warm meal was necessary to start a week of training at the Army post by 184 Junior ROTC students from Jackson Public Schools.

"Our intent with this program is for students to have the right tools for a successful life," said retired Col. Paul Willis, director of JROTC in Jackson, Miss.

Looking out at the students Monday as they formed outside the dining facility near the barracks that would be home for the next several days, Willis said the program is not trying to entice the students to become Soldiers or join the military. Instead, JROTC tries to provide participants a safe and successful environment where they are empowered to achieve their goals.

Jackson's training was part of annual exercises JROTC programs nationwide participate in each summer at locations across the country. The aim is to keep students active while they're away from the classroom and to foster teamwork and camaraderie among them.

JROTC cadets began training with waterborne and climbing activities to bring the individuals into a cohesive group and to face the rest of the week's challenges as a team.

Willis said the training, in part, is designed to provide the students -- ranging from freshmen to seniors -- with different tools they can use as they confront life's challenges.

"Part of life is to be able to work with others and to be able to adapt to different situations or whatever life throws at you," he said.

On Tuesday, cadets confronted their fears at the climbing complex. The rope course gives a cadet a set of tasks to accomplish by facing, what for some was a paralyzing fear, a maze of ropes, high-rope bridges and a suspended bridge standing 30-feet high.

At the suspended bridge, cadets faced a fearful decision. In the previous obstacles, there were other ropes and handles from which to hold on. But at the bridge, there was nothing. There also were gaps to overcome. Between the gaps there were five different-sized wood steps.

The task seemed impossible. Moreover, the rope that served the cadet as a solace; the cadet has to place it behind him and cross the bridge without stopping.

"The high-rope training was the most challenging for me because I'm afraid of heights," Cadet Mya Brown said.

The week progressed Wednesday with rappel training. At the rappelling site, cadets were taught how to safely navigate the 51-foot high tower. Cadets had the opportunity to rappel with the aid of a wall or suspended from a rope. They chose what route to take.

"I rappelled from the tower 10 times. I was trying to rappel 12 times, but I ran out of time. But I did it 10 times," Cadet Trayshawn Bell said.

Aside from the obvious intent, the challenge of the rappel tower was to build cadets' self-confidence and overcome the challenge, regardless of one's fears.

"With JROTC, I have been able to overcome my shyness, and now, I am able to lead others. Before JROTC, I wouldn't have dared to do stand in front of people and lead them," Cadet Hadassah Strong said.

Willis said that in some ways, he feels he is still preparing to go to battle. However, this time is not for his nation, but his conviction.

"With the JROTC program, I'm still in combat; I'm fighting to win the hearts and minds of our young people," Willis said.

Page last updated Sat June 16th, 2012 at 00:00