IR JROTC students show leadership among their peers
The Indian River Marine Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) program has done itself proud. Currently, 74 of the school’s students are enrolled in the program and are actively working on bettering themselves and their community.
“I was really interested in this program,” said sophomore PFC Ray Santos. “At first, I was not really self-confident. This program made me more confident in who I am. I’m able to speak in front of larger crowds more comfortably, so it really has helped me. I would definitely recommend it to other students. It teaches self-discipline and is a great way to put your life on track. It’s a really great program.”
Retired Marine Maj. Frank Ryman, who has been teaching JROTC at IRHS for 15 years, said the program is built around leadership education.
“It’s a four-year program,” he said. “It’s divided up into five areas of study. Military skills is just one of that. … Our program is broken down into leadership, citizenship, personal growth, professional development and military skills.”
Ryman said that the Marine Corps JROTC program at IR was the first in Delaware. Now, only one other exists.
“This high school is unique. I’ve been to other schools, and I’ll come back to this one any day. It’s really been a pleasure to work here,” said Ryman.
He acknowledged that it is a common misconception that to take JROTC in school also means signing up for military service.
“That’s a challenge to us, in terms of recruiting, because most people think that when you sign up to be in JROTC, you’re signing up — obligating yourself — to be in the military. That’s far from it,” he said. “Our program is actually a college-prep program. Statistically, if you look nationwide, the majority of students who stay with JROTC programs two, three, four years, the majority of them go to four-year colleges.”
He added that, although joining JROTC is not a signing up to serve in the military, he and retired Marine Gunnery Sgt. James will answer any questions the students have about service.
“We’re not military recruiters, but we would like to provide information to the cadets about possible military careers. To that end, our third-year curriculum has classes on Air Force, Navy and Army,” he said. “Our job as military instructors is to provide exposure to the other services. The gunny and I don’t stand up here and basically say the Marines are the best. That’s just unprofessional. But they see us every day, and we do provide modeling.”
He added that he and James are homeroom teachers and are involved in other school activities, such as the Chess Club and the Outdoor Adventure Club, and help coach the track team.
“We are not drill instructors. We’re senior military instructors, but this is not a boot camp environment. I’m a teacher. We’re required to do everything all other teachers do.”
Ryman said that, every year, one or two graduating seniors will join the military, with some former graduates of the program going on to graduate from West Point.
“What they’re truly teaching them is leadership qualities that can be used in anything, whether it’s military, at college or straight into the workforce,” added IRHS Principal Bennett Murray. “There are some who have come out and gone into the workforce, and some who have gone to West Point.”
Sophomore Sgt. John Wharton, who has family currently serving in different branches of the military and whose father and grandfather served in the Navy, said he plans on joining the Marine Corps after graduation.
“I would like to follow them,” he said. “I believe it’s the branch that best fits me, because they’re the hardest and toughest, and I think I’d fit in.”
Wharton said the JROTC program helps cadets develop skills that will help them in life, not just the military.
“It’s not a recruiting class. To be in JROTC it helps you learn manners and leadership skills. It helps you become a better person,” he said. “I joined to get the chance to learn leadership skills and traits for when I go into the military.”
Sophomore Lance Cpl. Mason Sanders said he plans to join the Coast Guard after graduating.
“It’s a great way to build leadership,” he said of the program. “I’ve learned to be a better leader. I always was the kid who was OK with doing it, but now I have more confidence behind it. When we do a speech, I’ll just go up there and rattle it off with ease.”
“I wanted to join to become a better person and learn better leadership skills,” added junior Pvt. Ricardo Townsend.
“We have class leaders assigned every week, on a rotating basis,” Ryman explained. “It’s another way to teach leadership. They’re responsible for conducting the uniform inspections. The other cadet is his scribe. What it does, it develops assertiveness, self-confidence and an attention to detail.”
The program also allows for cadets to take various field trips throughout the year. In September, cadets visited the Marine Expo at Quantico, Va., and they also plan to visit the Dover Air Force Base and the Indian River Coast Guard Station.
“The other reason we take the fieldtrips is they’re an opportunity for leadership,” Ryman said.
Students are also able to continue their time in JROTC by participating in a summer camp in Baltimore County.
“It’s more of a boot camp like environment,” explained Ryman of the camp.
“We got woken up at 5:30 a.m. every day,” said PFC Austin Mizzell of his experience there. “It was an interesting experience. We were all on schedule. We ate MREs. We did everything together. We couldn’t go anywhere by ourselves. We always had to have a buddy — a “battle buddy” is what they call it. We got to rappel from a still helicopter and rappel from a wall.”
In the classroom, cadets will work out of a textbook or from topics presented to them.
“Sometimes Major writes things up on the board, and we have group discussions on the topics,” said junior PFC Zach Weiss, adding that he believes JROTC should be a mandatory class for all students. “Right now, we’re learning about colleges, so I’ve split up the class in three groups and discuss it.”
As members of the JROTC program, the students are required to dress in uniform once a week. Ryman said the school receives funds to purchase the uniforms from the Marine Corps.
“The Marine Corps gives us money per cadet to both obtain and maintain the uniforms. These uniforms are the same uniforms the Marines wear. The only difference is they’re required to wear the MCJROTC tape,” explained Ryman. “We have students sign contracts at the beginning of the year that they’ll be issued military uniforms and will be temporary custodians of the uniforms, and at the end of the year they’ll return them to us.”
They also have to agree to wear the uniforms at least once a week and maintain proper personal grooming standards, as required by the different services.
“The uniform isn’t as bad as you would think to wear,” said Sanders.
Ryman said that students actually take classes on the three different uniforms they are given — their camouflage utility uniform, Charlie service uniform and dress blue uniform.
“They have to have their haircut a certain way, and it doesn’t have to be the boot-camp style,” he added. “It’s even graduated up on the side, up to 3 inches on top. And the girls don’t have to get their hair cut — they just have to put it in a bun.”
Volunteering is a big part of the program, as well, and a certain number of hours of volunteer work are required in order to be promoted.
“It’s different for each rank. I believe the first rank is five hours and then goes up from there with each rank,” said Wharton. “It feels good to help out the community and have people look up to high-schoolers — ‘Oh, they actually help out, instead of being lazy kids who play video games all the time.’ Every time we volunteer, people come up to us and hug us and say ‘thank you.’”
The JROTC students volunteer every Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon at the Atlantic Community Thrift Store in Clarksville, as well as at other places throughout the year.
“The best part would be the leadership and helping others,” said sophomore Pvt Edgar Torres.
“Citizenship is important,” said Ryman, “because they have to understand what is required to be a citizen. I stress that the most important thing you have in your lives is your time, because we never know how much time we have. For you to take your time and give it to someone else or another organization is a very good thing. It makes them appreciate what they have, also.”
“They spend hundreds of hours in the community, and it gets the opportunity to see them, whether it’s at a parade, a memorial presentation at the VFW,” added Murray. “They’re always there to support our community in many different ways.”
The cadets can be found throughout the year at parades and performing color-guard duties.
“The program is growing again, so that’s good for us, but more importantly, it’s good for our young people,” said Murray. “It’s nice to see a group of young men and women who are out serving the community like that. And I think they’re excellent role models for our younger students, too.”
During this year’s Great Pumpkin Festival in Millville, 35 JROTC students volunteered.
“These young men and women, these cadets, were amazing. The hardest part about the festival is to set up and break down. It’s usually myself, staff and volunteers,” said Town Manager Debbie Botchie.
Botchie said the cadets were well-mannered, organized and helpful, and she plans to have them back for future events.
“It was, ‘Yes, ma’am’ and ‘No, ma’am,’ ‘How can I help you, ma’am,’” recalled Botchie of her interaction with the cadets. “They were so polite and professional. They did the kids’ games all day. They were so attentive to the children.”
As a token of its appreciation, the Town recently presented the program with $500 in recognition of their help at the festival.
“They’re just a wonderful group of young people, and it’s so nice to have them out helping our community.”
Outside of the classroom, the cadets also have the opportunity to be on the air rifle team and the drill team.
“There are 13 of us on the drill team,” said Wharton. “We practice movements of the military, facing movements, and practice presenting the colors. We have a competition coming up.”
“In 2003, we were the Delaware State Drill Team Champions,” added Ryman.
Ryman said he’s extremely proud of his cadets and how they conduct themselves both in and out of the classroom.
“They’re very confident, they’re very self-assertive,” he said. “We’re getting ready to do a promotion for two of our cadets who have gone above and beyond, and we feel because of what they’ve contributed in time and effort to our program, that they should be meritoriously promoted ahead of their peers.”
As for the cadets themselves, they are proud to be a part of the program and take an active role in their community.
“People look up to us in JROTC — especially when we’re in uniform. So we try not to get in trouble, and set that example,” said Wharton. “I wish I could see this entire classroom full of cadets.”
“I like everything about it. The question is what don’t I like about it,” said Weiss, with a laugh. “Nothing!”
Organizations looking for volunteer help can contact Maj. Frank Ryman by calling Indian River High School at (302) 732-1500.