Students at Long County High School have a new elective option when they begin enrolling for the fall semester – the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) program. The first classes using the JROTC curriculum began Jan. 6. In the last month, the program taught by Capt. James Sirmans, Army Retired, has already reached maximum capacity.
Capt. Sirmans and Superintendent David Edwards hope to double that number by next year when the school system takes on another instructor.
The program is open to students in ninth through twelfth grades, and contrary to popular belief, does not require students to commit to joining a branch of the U.S. military, Capt. Sirmans said. Instead, it uses the military model to teach students fundamental skills they will carry with them regardless of the career path they choose. Students who wish to continue in the program after high school can join ROTC in participating universities.
The JROTC program was established in 1916 by the National Defense Act providing education and training opportunities at public and private institutions across the United States. The program expanded from a strictly Army affiliation in 1964 to include all branches of the military, according to the U.S. Army JROTC Program and Department of Defense.
You will find the JROTC program in over 1,700 public and private high schools, military institutions, and correctional centers serving cadets from all backgrounds, genders, and ethnicities. The program’s motto is simple: “To motivate young people to be better citizens.”
Capt. Sirmans hopes to do just that — motivate his cadets to be better citizens and to become active members in their community.
Last year, Long County School System sent an interest survey to their high school students asking what classes they would like to see added to the curriculum. The response was clear: students and parents in Long County wanted to see a JROTC program established, according to Long County High School Principal Sherry Lester.
The enrollment numbers since the program began Jan. 6 speak to that enthusiasm. To begin, the program can only accommodate 99 students with about 97-99 students enrolled in the last month. There were even students on a waiting list, and the aspect that encourages Capt. Sirmans is that each cadet has chosen to be in the program without being assigned to it for disciplinary reasons.
“If they don’t want to be here, that can become problematic for those who want to be here,” Capt. Sirmans said. “But if the students in [JROTC] are just the same as the rest of the students in Long County, I’m impressed with their behavior and discipline.”
Students who transfer to Long County High School with previous JROTC experience can continue in the program without missing a beat. As long as they meet the standards upheld in the program, each transferring cadet can pick up where he or she left off which includes keeping rank and eligibility for awards.
Awards, ranks, and additional responsibilities are all part of the JROTC program. Cadets learn to be a part of their community, their school, and their unit while applying their instruction to real-life situations and learning about health and wellness, physical fitness, first-aid, geography, American history and government, communications and emotional intelligence.
In Capt. Sirmans class, his cadets are responsible for checking the forecast for the next three to four days to plan ahead for physical training sessions as they would were they working on a military installation, whether determining flight schedules for the pilots of million-dollar aircraft or calculating the barometric pressure needed to accurately fire rounds from a tank. This real-life application gets cadets thinking ahead and taking responsibility for their decisions.
Along with awards and ranks, the cadets wear a JROTC uniform that includes a gray shirt, blue slacks, and a JROTC windbreaker. These uniforms have been donated by other programs. Second-year cadets are eligible for a Class A jacket, “when they’ve shown they have skin in the game and are committed to the program and not just testing the waters,” Capt. Sirmans said.
The program will have a battalion commander, a staff sergeant major, and an executive officer along with administrators and support staff to oversee logistics, supplies and record-keeping. With this replica of military structure, cadets have the opportunity to improve their leadership skills and learn to take direction from and be accountable to their peers.
With such an overwhelming interest in the program, Long County Board of Education decided to fund the program before it received federal funding through the U.S. Army JROTC Program. That means the board of education funded the startup for the program making it a National Defense Corps of Cadets, but Sirmans says there is really no difference between the NDCC and JROTC except the funding source.
When the U.S. Army JROTC Program funds a school program, all the supplies from uniforms to printers are provided to the school and there is a 50 percent cost share with the school for the instructor’s salary, Capt. Sirmans said.
Edwards and Sirmans are working to have the program federally funded in the next year. In the meantime, each student enrolled in the class generates Full-time Equivalency (FTE) revenue for the school system, and Long County High School is on the list for JROTC approval.
“We’re excited about teaching students leadership skills and getting them involved in the community,” Lester said.
Capt. Sirmans hopes he will get his cadets involved in community events like parades, sporting events, and meetings where the skills of the JROTC Color Guard can be on full display.