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Hundreds of Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps Cadets from across the nation compete in Washington D.C. this week for the Junior Leadership and Academic Bowl (JLAB). Cadets vie for the championship both in and out of a classroom setting, demonstrating the academic and leadership knowledge they’ve learned in JROTC during the school year.
On June 21, Cadets had the opportunity to experience and explore history at the National Mall before ending their day at Arlington National Cemetery. Four Army JROTC Cadets were chosen to participate in a wreath-laying ceremony honoring the sacrifices of American service members at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, alongside members of The Old Guard – the Soldiers who watch over the Unknown Soldier at all times.
“I think this is an experience to remember and I will always cherish this in my heart,” said Cadet Angel Montelongo, a rising junior from Scarborough High School. “This is one of the peaks of JLAB and I’m excited to be here.”
Over three million people visit Arlington National Cemetery annually, and there are, on average, 12 daily wreath-laying ceremonies from schools and organizations around the world.
Sgt. 1st Class Jason Hickman serves as the 39th Sergeant of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. His role is to “validate the certification process for Tomb Guards” and share history of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier with the public.
Hickman believes being able to participate in the constant memorial service demonstrated by The Old Guard is incredibly significant and holds different meanings to each generation.
“The Unknown Soldier is the one that we chose to represent all of the Unknown Soldiers to give families a place to come and grieve when they’ve never received their loved one home,” Hickman said. “We live in a time where we will never know what it’s like to send an American service member off to war and then we don’t know what happened to them…it’s been decades since we’ve lived in that time.”
“It’s a place where we remember and it’s a place where we honor,” he adds.
For the Cadets chosen to represent Army JROTC, the importance of their role in the ceremony felt surreal.
Just a few weeks ago, Cadet Jena Farris, a rising senior from Independence High School, was doing research on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in school. She said receiving the opportunity to honor the Unknown Solider in such a profound way was “mind-blowing.”
“I never would have thought I would be able to transition from watching the Changing of the Guard on a computer screen to actually putting the wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier with the Guard,” she said. “It was the most amazing experience and I really appreciate the opportunity.”
After the ceremony, the Cadets also received a tour of the Old Guard’s bunker with Sgt. 1st Class Hickman as their guide.
Cadet Jennyfer Kuegah, a rising senior from South Gwinnett High School, couldn’t wipe the smile off her face while recalling the entire experience.
“I just did the most amazing thing ever, something that I would never have thought that I could ever do,” she said. “I honestly didn’t even know this existed before today, so that was cool to me and I’m just still amazed.”
Kuegah also took a moment to reflect on the significance of her generation contributing to the continuous memorial service beside members of The Old Guard.
“We’ve got to pay our respects,” Kuegah said. “It means a lot to me because, for the families with Soldiers here, I would want somebody as young as me to pay our respects.”
About Army ROTC
Army ROTC is one of the best leadership courses in the country and is part of your college curriculum. Through classes and field training, Army ROTC provides you with the tools to become an Army Officer without interfering with your other classes. ROTC also provides you with discipline and money for tuition while enhancing your college experience.
Army ROTC offers pathways to becoming an Army Officer for high school students, current active duty Soldiers, and for current National Guard and Army Reserve Soldiers through the Simultaneous Membership Program.
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