JROTC teaches life skills and leadership

Barbara Hootman

The Junior Reserve Officer’s Training Corps is much more than competition drills and marching in parades. It is an elective course in the high school curriculum that has been offered at Owen High School for almost 30 years.

“JROTC provides some variety to the school’s curriculum,” Richard McConoughey, a retired colonel and JROTC senior army instructor at Owen High said via email. “It is primarily a citizenship program, heavy on American history and civics. The mission is to motivate young people to be better citizens. And it offers a small taste of what the military is like to those students thinking about joining.”

Currently 47 cadets are taking JROTC at Owen High. McConoughey has had as many as 68 cadets in one semester and as few as 32 in the second semester throughout the five years he has been the senior army instructor at Owen High. He retired from the army in October 2011. Command Sgt. Major Paul Massullo is also an army instructor with the JROTC program at Owen High.

“Any student attending Owen High School can take JROTC,” McConoughey said. “The student has to volunteer for the class, be able to participate in physical activity and follow army grooming standards, which means haircuts and shaving for the boys.”

Joseph Calloway is an Owen High senior and a JROTC battalion commander.

“My friends talked me into joining JROTC,” he said. “It looked like fun to do Raider events (sports or physically challenging training events). I also knew that it would help me with college. Colleges really like to see some type of leadership on a resume.”

Cadet 2nd Lt. and public affairs officer Cassie Lowdermilk, a senior, also relied on the recommendations from friends to join JROTC.

“I knew some of the cadets in JROTC, and they spoke highly of the program, so I joined,” she said.

JROTC complements other courses in the high school curriculum.

“The JROTC curriculum fits in with other studies because every day we go over a little bit of every topic the school teaches,” Cadet 1st Lt. Darren Fieler said. “I want to improve on my leadership skills and my physical fitness, so hopefully one day I can join the military.”

“In JROTC each day we go over multiple subjects such as history or math,” Calloway said. “Other subjects are integrated through the SAT practice test. Now we are learning about the development of the United States Constitution.”

Students are not obligated to join the military after graduating from high school.

“JROTC is not a recruiting tool for the military,” McConoughey said. “Most of the cadets that take JROTC are neither physically or educationally qualified for military service. We do invite recruiters to talk to our classes about the importance of getting a high school diploma, staying away from drugs, not committing any kind of crime and avoiding tattoos. The last three can prevent people from getting good jobs, let alone getting into the military. The military of the 21st Century is not the military of the 1960s-1970s.”

JROTC classes usually provide life lessons and the learning of life skills that other classes do not.

“I am and will be much smarter than I have been in the past,” Fieler said. “I can already see my grades improving in all my classes. JROTC has really helped me prepare myself for the responsibilities of being an adult. I am definitely getting physically stronger due to the not-so-easy workouts. Col. McConoughey and Sgt. Major Paul Massullo have all the cadets do physical training twice a week.”

Calloway said he has benefited from JROTC by being treated like an adult.

“We are given responsibility, and it is up to us to handle the situations,” he said.

“The cadets benefit from the team work required by JROTC,” McConoughey said. “They learn to show up for work prepared to work, be on time and put forth a full effort. We remind them that just doing the bare minimum will get them no bonus at work and make them liable to be the first laid off when things get tough at work. Finally, we encourage giving back to their school, community and nation.”

Fieler said his senior year so far has been “packed full” of writing papers for senior projects and other classes, “and I’m glad that JROTC has made us write a paper with a different topic every year. All of the paper writing projects will definitely help in college.”

“The life skills you learn in JROTC consist of self-discipline as well as how to be an active citizen in society,” Calloway said. “JROTC teaches us there is a difference between a citizen and a civilian.”

Lowdermilk said JROTC had shown her what life will be like after high school.

“The program has helped me develop leadership and interpersonal skills,” she said. “I am proud that I listened and joined JROTC. We are just one big dysfunctional family. We fight 90 percent of the time, but when it comes down to it, we all have each other’s backs.”