FORT HOOD, Texas, June 28, 2011 -- About 200 cadets, representing 10 high schools throughout Texas, gathered at Fort Hood, Texas, for a week-long Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps Cadet Leadership Challenge held June 12-17, 2011.

The annual event is a summer camp that provides an opportunity for cadets from different schools to come together and to put into practice their leadership and teamwork skills, while interacting with cadets from schools all over Texas, according to retired Lt. Col. Lennon Tatum, Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps Cadet Leadership Challenge, or JCLC, camp commandant.

The camp also exposes cadets, Tatum added, to some basic Soldier skills during training events such as land navigation, rappelling, drown-proofing, rope bridges and a leadership reaction course.

Retired Lt. Col. Joseph Merlo served as the JCLC camp logistics officer. He’s also Ellison High School’s senior Army instructor. He said JROTC is a unique leadership opportunity for students to practice real hands-on leadership instead of just reading about it in a book.

Merlo added that the beauty of the camp is when the cadets start to get tired and encounter some friction. Then they find out who the real leaders are, Merlo said.

Cadet Corrie Warren, a senior at Copperas Cove High School, has attended JCLC for the past three years.

“It was a lot of fun. At first it was hard and it pushed you. You had a lot of things you had to go through and endure,” Warren said. “But if you pulled it out and became a trooper, you got a lot out of it.”

The leadership reaction course was Warren’s favorite part of JCLC, as well as rappelling, which wasn’t always on the top of Warren’s list when she first enrolled in JROTC three years ago.

“I was terrified. I used to cry going down the wall,” Warren said. “I had a big fear of heights, but now I am actually talking people down the wall.”

Pvt. 1st Class Chase Jacques, an avionics mechanic with 2nd Battalion, 149th Aviation Regiment, volunteered to assist at the week-long camp. He’s no stranger to JROTC, having participated in the program for four years at Copperas Cove High School.

“After I graduated and joined the Army and went off to basic training, I thought back on a lot on the things they taught me, like how to lead, how to make sure your Soldiers are prepared,” he said. “(It) helped me a lot when I went to basic and helped a lot with my squad.”

Reflecting on this year’s crop of cadets, Jacques said, “There are a few that I can see in the future being an NCO (noncommissioned officer) or a good officer and leading Soldiers into combat and doing a really good job at it.”

Cadet Micae Bondurant, a senior at Killeen High School, initially joined JROTC to fulfill a physical education requirement at her school, but stayed in the program well after the necessary time.

“I only had to take two years, but I ended up staying,” she said. “I noticed I was pretty good at it, and I knew that eventually I would move up to some higher-ranking position and then I would be able to fulfill some leadership duty.”

Bondurant said the cadets were up every morning at 5:30 a.m. during camp and stayed engaged until lights out at 10 p.m. She said the days were long and demanding, and that each cadet got an opportunity to be in a leadership position.

Bondurant said she enjoyed her time as a company commander, noting that while she was nervous at first, she found her experience in that role to be rewarding.

But that wasn’t her favorite part of camp. The rappelling tower provided her the biggest thrill.

“I was scared, but at the same time,” she said, “I felt so accomplished when I finally got down there.”

Bondurant feels that JROTC and her experiences at JCLC have helped her gain more confidence in herself and her abilities. She encourages other high school students to get involved in JROTC.

“If you don’t have many goals for yourself, or if you don’t see yourself doing anything bigger than what you’re doing right now,” she said, “then you should join JROTC, because it provides many opportunities for you to grow as an individual.”