By KRISTIN MOLINAROJune 8, 2011
Highschoolers are delving into Army life during a weeklong leadership camp hosted at Fort Benning and Columbus State University.
Hundreds of Army Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps cadets from 25 schools across central and south Georgia are attending the annual JROTC Cadet Leadership Challenge. The first session ran May 31 to Thursday and the second began Monday. The camp is held annually at the end of the school year and gives cadets the chance to practice their leadership skills in a military setting.
“In JROTC, we guide them " teach them about leadership, communication, team spirit, esprit de corps " and then watch them move forward,” retired Col. Roy Plummer said.
Plummer is the director of Army instruction for Muscogee County School District’s JROTC program and oversees programs for eight additional schools in the greater Chattahoochee Valley region enrolling a total of 1,400 cadets. Plummer served as an Army chaplain for 23 years before retiring as Fort Benning’s command chaplain.
At the camp, cadets are divided into squads, platoons and companies under the leadership of senior NCOs. Each cadet has the opportunity to hold a leadership position and conduct a mission. Camp activities include jumping from the Airborne School’s 34-foot towers, rappelling down 60-foot walls, learning self-defense and water survival techniques and tackling the Ranger School’s Malvesti Obstacle Course. Columbus State University provided lodging for the trip and hosted several events including a sports championship at its athletic facility Thursday.
“We get them out doing things people don’t normally do " like jumping off a 34-foot tower. We’re trying to get them to overcome their fears. If a cadet can overcome a fear " like a fear of heights " it transfers to overcoming other fears, like going to college, being away from home for the first time, or other obstacles in their life,” said retired Lt. Col. Bob Koester, a senior instructor at Dooly County High School in Vienna, Ga.
Cadet Amanda Youngblood has been with the JROTC program at Central High School in Talbotton, Ga., for two years. Heading into her junior year, Youngblood said she first became a cadet to learn more about the military. She’s not sure what her plans will be when she graduates, but thinks she will head to college before pursuing a military career. In the meantime, she’s also a center on the school’s basketball team, a football trainer and runs the 800-meter on the track team.
Koester said JROTC is not a recruitment tool and cadets incur no military obligation. However, cadets who choose to enlist after graduation or enter ROTC at the college level may receive benefits through higher rank or advancement.
For Plummer, it’s a matter of teaching the students tools to succeed, not just in the Army but also in the everyday work force and in college.
“I always tell them ‘you make a mark so that others can follow, so that those who come behind you can see the mark you’ve made as you lead the way,” he said.
Congress established the Army JROTC program in 1916. In 1919, the city’s first JROTC program launched at Columbus High School. In addition to the district’s eight high schools, the MCSD JROTC department today includes Chattahoochee County High School. The 180-hour elective course is offered to college-bound and vocational students and is staffed by 25 retired officers and NCOs led by Plummer and deputy director Steven Kuehl, a retired lieutenant colonel. Each of the nine schools has a drill team, color guard, leaders challenge team and an air rifle team. The teams participate in a variety of competitions and events. The program is open to cadets in grades 9-12.
Schools nationwide and in Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, Japan, South Korea and Germany host more than 1,600 JROTC units and enroll roughly 286,000 cadets, JROTC officials said.