By Amy TolsonMarch 19, 2015
They may not have their high school diplomas or even their driver's licenses yet, but they are leaders in their own right.
Nearly 600 Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps cadets paid a visit to Redstone Arsenal March 17 for Team Redstone's 2015 JROTC Day, an opportunity for organizations that call the installation home to showcase the importance of their people, mission, equipment and facilities in supporting the warfighter, while fostering and mentoring the cadets in their journey to becoming productive citizens.
"You're part of the next generation of leaders for our nation, our community and our Army, and it truly is all about leadership, commitment and service," said Gen. Dennis L. Via, Army Materiel Command commander, who spent part of the day with the cadets. "I commend you for being a part of the program. You had to volunteer to be part of the program. That tells me that you're setting yourself apart, that you want to be successful, you want to achieve great things in life, whatever your passion happens to be. I know you're going to do that. This foundation that is being provided to you through the Junior ROTC program will set you far ahead of your peers."
Throughout the course of JROTC Day, cadets received hands-on demonstrations in the latest and greatest technologies being used across the world by Soldiers today and spoke with the men and women who helped to develop those innovations, in addition to visits with other organizations, such as the Sergeant Major Association and Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association. Cadets capped off their day with the Most Spirited competition, to see how much hooah they could muster through motivation checks. James Clemens was declared the winner.
Offering words of wisdom to the students, Via encouraged the cadets to work hard in their studies every day, to always be professional in their conduct, appearance and attitude, to always adhere to high standards and discipline, and to be truthful in their words and deeds. Via pointed to former ROTC cadets, like himself, who have gone on to be successful later in life, with names ranging from retired Gen. Colin Powell, former secretary of state, Walmart founder Sam Walton and actor James Earl Jones.
"I had no idea that one day I would be leading this $50-plus billion organization, with 64,000 people around the world, but I do know that the foundation I received when I was in ROTC taught me about leadership, about being a member of team, about camaraderie and being able to go forward and accomplish your mission with discipline and focus," Via said. "That allowed me to be able to rise to the position that I'm serving in today. You're starting with a tremendous foundation because you're starting in high school."
One of those likely future success stories is New Century Technology cadet Cailin Simpson, who has not only received an appointment to West Point, but the Air Force Academy as well. JROTC wasn't a path she initially intended to take -- rather, she opted for a year of JROTC instead of having to take physical education.
"JROTC gave a leadership element that you couldn't get in P.E.," Simpson said. "My intention was to get out after one year, but JROTC is such a good program that I stayed for four. JROTC really teaches you when to lead and when to follow; how to earn something, and how to let somebody else earn something."
The experience shaped her high school career, showing her that leadership is everywhere, and has paved her future path, which will involve serving in uniform in some capacity.
"JROTC has instilled such a sense of integrity and service in me that I feel I would be remiss not to serve my country," Simpson said.
Simpson is part of the approximately 30 percent of cadets who go on to serve their country, according to Col. John Pugliese, brigade commander for 6th ROTC brigade, which oversees 39 senior ROTC programs and more than 480 JROTC programs in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida and Puerto Rico. The main mission of the JROTC program is to first and foremost create better citizens.
"I get a lot of positive energy from the cadets," said Pugliese, who plans to share Team Redstone's JROTC Day concept with garrison commanders at other installations, such as Fort Benning and Fort Gordon. "It's just a very positive program and it really provides a lot to the nation, because whatever they decide to do, they're going to have a much better appreciation when they go to do that, having learned what our nation is all about and leadership."
High schools represented at JROTC Day included: Sheffield, Albertville, Athens, Limestone County
Career Technical Center, Columbia, Grissom, Hazel Green, Lee/New Century, Buckhorn, Austin, Decatur, Huntsville, Butler, Sparkman and James Clemens.
Participating organizations included: Redstone Test Center, SMDC, 2nd Recruiting Brigade, Alabama National Guard, PEO Aviation, Fox Army Health Center, PEO Missiles & Space, AMRDEC, Missile Defense Agency, Sergeant Major Association, BOSS, Garrison Directorate of Emergency Services, Marshall Space Flight Center, Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association, Veterans Memorial Museum, Corps of Engineers, U.S. Space & Rocket Center, Army Community Service, Command and General Staff College, University of North Alabama ROTC, Alabama A&M ROTC, AUSA and Child, Youth & School Services.