FORT POLK, La. -- An organization at Leesville High School offers teens the chance to learn leadership skills, how to be responsible and work as team. It also builds - and tests - a student's confidence. For those who work hard, it can provide a college scholarship, and for those who decide college is not for them, a jump-start on a career.

One might think the organization described above is some type of athletic team, student council, band or choral group. While each of these offers students opportunities to excel, the Leesville High School Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps - JROTC - offers the whole gamut.
"It's just like another class, except it really prepares you to be successful," Cadet Lt. Col. Meshach Smith said.

For someone like Cadet 1st Lt. Rebecca Campbell, JROTC offered a chance to get a head start on a life-long dream. "Almost all of the males in my Family served in the military," Campbell said. "I want to be the first female and first officer in my Family."

Campbell said she enjoys the camaraderie among members of her JROTC unit.
"It's like a big Family," she said. "We work together, play together, do drills together, and it's all on a volunteer basis."

Among the events cadets can participate in are drill team, color guard, rangers and rifle teams. All, according to Cadet Maj. Tashea Williams, are loads of fun.

"We have the cadet challenge where cadets go through a confidence course," she said. "It's the hardest one in Louisiana and really tests your confidence, but it's also a lot of fun."

Lest you think it's all fun and games for the LHS JROTC bunch, there is also the matter of community service. But it's something the group enjoys.
"We work with the Ministerial Alliance to get food for the hungry and collect school supplies for those who are less fortunate," Williams said. "We also help sponsor a soap box derby each year in Leesville."

And through it all, Smith said cadets are constantly learning.
"We learn how to respect and get along with other people, how to become more responsible and develop effective leadership skills," Smith said.

For those who want to consider a career in the military, there's an added bonus.
"If you want to go to college, you can get an ROTC scholarship that pays for everything," Williams said. "When you graduate, you go into the Army as a second lieutenant. If you want to enlist right out of high school, you skip the first two ranks and go in as a private first class. And even if you don't want to be in the military, you still learn leadership skills that help in anything you do."

Smith said many students have misconceptions about JROTC.
"A lot of them think we have to wear uniforms every day, or that you're always getting yelled at, or that the uniforms cost a lot of money," Smith said. "None of that is true. We wear our uniforms one day a week, they are issued to us free of charge and no one yells - we respect each other."

Another concern Williams said she hears is that if a person is in JROTC they can't participate in other school activities. "I'm a cheerleader and run track," she said. "You certainly have time to do other things. It's not a boot camp and you're not pressured to do something you're uncomfortable doing. It's all about encouragement."

To join, Williams said all a student has to do is sign up for JROTC just like they would for any other class.
"If it's not for you, you can drop it at mid-term and add another class," she said.
Smith said that like any other organization, cadets get out of JROTC what they put into it.

"You can be as involved as you want," he said. "It gives you a chance to excel."
Leesville High School's JROTC will host a meet and greet in August for students who will be attending the school for the first time. A date has not been set at this time, but those interested can check with the school office at 239-3464 or 238-0895 after Aug. 1.