By By Steve Arel, U.S. Army Cadet CommandMay 5, 2013
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Of all those watching the Smith-Cotton High School Junior ROTC flourish over the years, Cindy Hall has had perhaps the most unique perspective.
What she sees through her viewfinder and ultimately captures on camera is a historical record chronicling the achievements of a program noted for setting up local youth for lifelong success and for being a bright spot in the Sedalia, Mo., community.
Most everywhere Smith-Cotton goes to compete -- Kentucky, Georgia or this weekend's national drill meet in Daytona -- Hall goes, too, with her Canon camera in hand.
Since the program began in 2004, no one has taken more pictures of Smith-Cotton Cadets spinning rifles, constructing one-rope bridges and marching in parades than Hall. She's not sure exactly how many photos she has snapped over the years. At last month's Army National drill meet -- a typical event she covers -- Hall collected some 2,500 images.
In Junior ROTC, where parental support is hailed as invaluable, Hall is as committed to seeing children succeed as anyone.
Perhaps what makes Hall's dedication intriguing is that she remains involved despite not having a child in the program -- or in high school -- in four years.
The 52-year-old who some Cadets affectionately call "momma" continues to serve. The bonds and the satisfaction of seeing children succeed are too strong.
"There's a lot of places you can volunteer," Hall said. "This is where I choose to volunteer my time. I go with these kids and work with them, and you get attached to them until they graduate. Then, new ones come in and you get attached to them. It's a continuous cycle."
Hall had long been involved with activities in which her sons, Brett and Ryan, participated. So when Brett, her eldest, became a Cadet in 2004 and became a member of the drill team, she was there to shoot photos and help promote the program. She did the same when Ryan joined a couple of years later and became part of the Raider team.
In fact, Hall has been to every Smith-Cotton JROTC event over the years, except for the 2008 National Raider Meet in Georgia she wasn't able to attend due to other commitments. She also shoots the program's military balls, auctions, parades, summer camps and official Cadet portraits.
Hall has been active in the booster club, having held almost all of the organization's leadership posts, including being its president at one point. She currently heads up the club's fundraising committee.
Cindy Hall believes in JROTC's mission of helping young people become better citizens. But, she says, she has witnessed far greater benefits to students -- including her own sons -- at Smith-Cotton, giving them life skills to help them overcome school and personal struggles.
"This program hits me in the heart," said Hall, whose travel is covered by the booster club. "I've seen so many lives touched and changed."
Hall's photography work goes beyond simply snapping Cadets mugging in front of the camera. A full-time accountant who runs a photography business with her husband on the side, Hall's images tell a story, beginning at the point where students board the bus for a particular event, to the competition itself, to the Cadets arriving back home.
The Smith-Cotton program has Cadets who shoot photos as well during competitions. But they go through Hall's files, too, using many of them in yearbooks and newspapers.
Hall wants people to know about the good news being generated by JROTC. So Smith-Cotton High School and Smith-Cotton Junior High School both have poster boards anchored in their public areas to spotlight the achievements of Cadets through photos. They were paid for and are updated regularly by Hall.
"We wouldn't be where we are without our parents," said Hannah Ott, Cadet battalion commander and a four-year JROTC member.
Hall is actually one of several parents who have remained active with the Smith-Cotton program after their sons and daughters graduated, said retired Lt. Col. Harry Cunningham, the program's senior Army instructor since its start. But she is by far his most active parent.
Hall has gotten to know Cunningham and his fellow instructors so well over the years that she sometimes shows up with their favorite drinks and has routinely on her own bought and brought meals to meets to feed 20 or 30 students.
"We have such a strong central core of strong, loyal parents," Cunningham said. "We couldn't do it without them."
The level of commitment to Smith-Cotton's JROTC is infectious, he said. He believes it serves as a point of motivation to the Cadets.
Hall has been someone to talk with on various trips, Ott said. Wanting to become an Army nurse, she has spoken to Hall about military life -- her youngest son is in the Army Reserve and serving in Afghanistan -- and life in general.
Jovana Cervants, a senior, said Hall has been a source of comfort in competitions where she and other Cadets were intimidated about the challenges ahead.
"She made me feel relaxed, like a mother would," Cervants said.
The involvement of parents like Hall isn't lost, either, on Cadets who aren't part of JROTC extracurricular teams.
"They don't have to come out there," said Jordyn Kemp, another senior. "JROTC is a big deal in our community, and what they do says a lot about them. It means a lot to me for them to help us and be involved with what we do."
Cunningham says he hopes parents like Hall will continue to support the program. Hall, meanwhile, doesn't see stepping away from JROTC anytime soon.
"I see what this program has done for our community, for our schools and for the Central Missouri area," she said. "I'll continue as long as they'll have me."