By Kari Hawkins, Redstone Rocket StaffAugust 13, 2009
Everette "Red" Hodges doesn't mind telling teenagers about his service with the Marines.
As the Marine JROTC senior instructor at Johnson High, he gets asked a lot about his experiences in the service. He provides answers as far as the questions require.
But it's leadership and citizenship that this top-notch instructor is most concerned about.
"We don't recruit for anyone," Hodges said. "We want to help develop young people into good leaders and good citizens. Whether you work at McDonald's or go into the Marines, leadership is always important.
"If students choose to go into the military and they have questions, we can answer them. But our program is about seeking and accepting responsibility, making good decisions, being accountable and, most importantly, being reliable. That's what leadership is all about."
Hodges was recently selected as JROTC instructor of the year in District 1 of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. The retired master gunnery sergeant has led the Marine program at Johnson for eight years with the assistance of Staff Sgt. Gregory Hearn.
"I like kids and I like finding new ways to keep them interested in what we are doing every day in JROTC," Hodges said. "There's a core of kids in JROTC that pretty much do everything - march in the parades, color guard, drill team, rifle team, and the physical training and academic competitions.
"But there are also those other kids who you really work hard to pull into the program and reach out to, and hope you can instill the leadership and citizenship principles that will help them live a good and successful life."
It was the pull of leadership and citizenship that lured this North Carolina native into joining the Marines in 1976. At the recruiting office, the recruiter presented a challenge that he could not walk away from.
"When I visited the Army and Navy recruiters, they told me everything they could do for me. Basically, they provided me the world," he recalled.
"But the Marine recruiter said 'I have a job for you if you can meet the challenge. If you can handle it we've got something for you. We don't accept applications, just commitment.' I wanted to take that challenge."
Hodges began his Marine career as a student at the Marine Detachment on Redstone Arsenal. He served as a Marine security guard, working in places like Okinawa, Japan, Nigeria, Chile and Hawaii. He has also served as a drill instructor at Parris Island, S.C., and served in Operation Desert Shield/Storm. He has been an instructor both at Redstone Arsenal and Camp Pendleton, Calif.
Along the way, in 1981, while a drill instructor, Hodges had the opportunity to work with a couple of JROTC groups.
"I told my wife, I wanted to someday work in that environment with teenage kids," he recalled.
In 2001, he retired from the Marines and became Johnson's senior JROTC instructor, a job he looks forward to each day.
"The important thing is to be happy going to work and happy coming home," he said. "That's when you know you have the right job. The Marines were great for me and now being an instructor is great for me. It's a good life with some bumps in the road."
Hodges naturally fit into the high school environment, relying on his memories of his own high school days to help him connect with even the toughest kids at Johnson.
"I was kind of rough around the edges when I was young," he said. "If I can help another young person, then that's what I want to do."
Along with leadership and citizenship, students in Johnson's Marine JROTC program learn about Marine history, and customs and courtesies of the Marines, they learn how to drill and how to salute, and they learn about discipline and respect.
"Most won't go on to be a Marine. But they will learn the principles of being a Marine that can help them in whatever career they choose," he said.
"It's amazing to see how the kids will first struggle with something, even though they want to do it. When they work at it and achieve it, they get so much confidence in themselves. It's amazing to watch how the JROTC program can help these kids grow into successful adults."
Leading a Marine JROTC program in Huntsville has been rewarding, too, because of the connection and support the program receives from the area's patriotic community, Hodges said. Johnson's JROTC students have benefitted from support from the Semper Fi Community Task Force, VFW and American Legion. Hodges also said the local JROTC community of instructors provides support for each other's programs.
"The competition between JROTC groups and the military services is good," he said. "But we all know that, first, we are the U.S. Today, the services do so many things that are joint service. Whether it's the Marines, Army, Navy or Air Force, it's important that it says U.S. in front of it."
Hodges' family includes a brother who is retired from the Army, a son active in the Army, another son who has served in the Marines and is now in the National Guard, and a daughter who plans to join the Navy after completing nursing school. He emphasizes to his JROTC students that no matter what they get from his program, they need to remember that when they go out into the world their actions make a statement of who they are and where they come from.
"I want them to realize that in everything they do they, first, represent themselves and their families, and then they represent the JROTC program and the school," he said.