Robert, my Oxford High sophomore, came to me this past week very concerned about his ability to participate in the Marine Corps Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (MCJROTC).
His older brother James was in the program and according to some of the cadets is a “legend” in the unit.
MCJROTC was not on his class schedule even though he requested it.
“I want to make sure I get all I can out of the program before they end the program,” he told me.
Unless participation increases, OHS loses the program next year if the minimum number of participants have not been met by Oct. 17.
There are 3,432 JROTC units across the country serving more than half a million students and Oxford High’s unit is one of 257 sponsored by the Marine Corps. According to the Marine Corps JROTC webpage, their mission is to “Develop character and citizenship in the youth of America.”
Four mission objectives are set forward.
1) Give students an appreciation for the origin, advantages, and responsibilities of citizenship;
2) Develop an understanding of leadership skills and the advantages of strong moral character;
3) Promote in students an understanding for the need and appreciation of national security;
4) Develop in students a sense of pride and personal discipline.
The mission and objectives are both lofty and admirable.
The unit at OHS has achieved its mission for our kids and much more. As you walk through the hall outside the classroom you see alumni of the program who have served our country. You see pride in the students. Cadets stand up straight with their shoulders back. JROTC emphasizes “health, physical education, ethics and financial responsibility.”
The very impressive obstacle course is a tribute to the focus on health and physical education for these students. Nationally only about 20% of all JROTC participants go on to join the military, according to Col. Steven M. Smith, director of the U.S. Army JROTC in a report in US News and World Report.
In Oxford, it is only 7% even though the senior military instructor can make a nomination to a service academy and those who enlist enter their service with a higher rank. This is not being used as a recruiting tool but to develop needed self-reliance and life skills in young people.
When you look at these cadets you see a cross-section of Oxford. This is consistent nationwide. According to a report prepared by the RAND corporation, “JROTC programs have higher-than-average representation for minority students.”
Col. Smith notes that program participation is highly diverse across lines of race, ethnicity, and gender.
The benefits of a JROTC program for many kids can’t be ignored. The Rand study reviewed the academic literature and found there is a consistently positive association between grade point average and JROTC participation. Dropout rates are lower, and attendance is improved.
JROTC gives many kids a point to aim for and they hit it. Surveys conducted in the study and common sense says JROTC provides a place for students who are not involved in athletics or band to be part of a student community and participate in extracurricular activities. William Farrell, PhD, in his book “The Boy Crisis,” talks extensively about programs that he calls “mentoring and rite of passage programs” and the positive effects they have on children. JROTC is such a program.
Service and citizenship are taught in the Oxford High program. Cadets are required to participate in volunteer activities that serve both the community and the school. In Marine vernacular they are “voluntold”, but this doesn’t in any way diminish the sense of accomplishment a 16-year-old gets from doing something that helps their community.
Last year we had a cadet volunteer at the “Velvet Ditch” steak contest. It turns out she had an interest in cooking and we were able to introduce her to several championship chefs. Service doesn’t only benefit others and cadets learn that.
Participation in JROTC programs has a positive association with discipline rates. The one-on-one mentoring from the instructors as well as the students looking out for each other keeps discipline problems at a minimum. Issues stop before they start. At-risk youth benefit from the program. Studies show there is an association between JROTC participation and increased grade point averages, increased attendance rates, and increased graduation rates.
The JROTC curriculum varies from sponsoring service to service but generally, it is four years of coursework in leadership, civics, U.S. history, geography and global awareness, health and wellness, and life skills.”
There are two instructors, a senior instructor who is a retired officer and a junior instructor who is a retired noncommission officer. In the case of Oxford High School Captain G.S. Baxter, USMC (Ret) and Sergeant Major Y.J. English, USMC (Ret). These men bring years of experience to the classroom. Instructors like them are in high demand.
Every service operates the maximum number of programs possible with the funding they receive from the U.S. Department of Defense. This limits the potential for program expansion into schools with an interest in establishing a JROTC unit. There is a waiting list of schools desiring a unit with 27 schools wanting a Marine Corps unit and a much longer list for the other services.
In general, there is a requirement the school maintains an enrolment of no fewer than 100 students who are in the ninth grade or above, that the school provides adequate facilities for classroom instruction, drills, instructor offices and extracurricular activities, and that the school employs the instructors.
Oxford High School has been on probation for several years for not making the enrollment numbers. Unless participation improves, this is the program’s last year. In the case of both of my sons, they were steered away from participation in JROTC. If the unit folds Oxford will never have a program funded mostly by the Department of Defense. The best we could hope for is a National Defense Cadet Corps program that is funded by local taxpayers.
Marine Corps JROTC is not for every kid just as the Marine Corps isn’t for everyone but there is little doubt that the cadets who participate in the program are better from what they learn. Cadets will look you in the eye when they shake your hand. They are dependable and conduct their lives with integrity. They are good citizens who have strong moral character. High school students should not be discouraged from joining the unit. Cadets benefit both themselves and the community and that is what Oxford needs.
General Jim Mattis spoke to the Marine Corps Association on July 29, 2022, in part about the need for support for Marines in the field. MCJROTC received that kind of support through principal Dr. Dana M. Bullard.
A “zero period” class has been authorized for the program. According to Captain Baxter, there is a strong desire for students to participate in the program. Surveys of participating students shows difficulty in finding a place in their schedule to allow for the class and enrolment interest forms substantiate the desire of kids who want to be in the program but aren’t.
The zero period will allow those students to participate and receive all of the benefits of the program without scheduling conflicts. It is now imperative for the students and their parents to make their desire known and enroll today.
Check Hotty Toddy News next week for a follow-up news story on the MCJROTC program.
Steven Jubera is the District Attorney for the 17th Judicial Circuit. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.