Henley High School students pursue personal growth through Junior ROTC

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Jefferson Thompson
  • 173rd Fighter Wing

School curriculum is traditionally summed up by the colloquial “three R’s: readin’, writin’, and ‘rithmatic.”  Those three areas demand the lion’s share of the resources that school districts around the 50 states have to dedicate to their students.  It’s a tried and true approach and helps to prepare students for higher education, if they so choose.

However, the general consensus is that students need to be able to walk away with a broader learning than just these basic concepts to be truly successful.  One program that looks beyond the basic education concepts of the “three R’s” is the Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps that is found in many schools around the country.

Col. (retired) John Woodward, the senior instructor for Jr. ROTC at Henley High School, sees the commission of this program this way.  “The mission of the program is to build better, more successful citizens,” he says. “The way I think we can do that is by helping them build character and understand how important that is including things like service and being a part of your community.”

This emphasis on community is clearly seen during a commander’s call where all of the cadets gather in formation in dress blues and many are recognized for their hours of community service.

Matt Edwards, a senior and the cadet vice commander, has amassed 170 hours of service to his community during his three years. Hey says it is important to him for a number of reasons, not least of which is his potential of attending the Air Force Academy after graduation.

During the ceremony the cadet Wing Commander Conner Dixon introduces the leadership team for the assembled cadets.  This structure mirrors that of an organized wing such as the 173rd Fighter Wing located just a few miles from the school—vice commander, mission support group commander, command chief and the list goes on. She demonstrates a good memory and introduces each of them for the group of more than 50 cadets.

Dixon says that the hardest part of her job is “getting cadets to do what they are supposed to, when they are supposed to do it,” something that may well be the best preparation for management in the real world, well beyond the graduation.

She says that is true for much of what she has learned in the program. “We learn a lot of useful stuff.  Kids say, ‘why don’t we learn stuff we will use in the real world?’ well, in here, we do.”

The curriculum touches personal financial management, the science of our weather, history of flight and a capstone project of choice for seniors and much else.

Dixon says she wishes to pursue a career in the Air Force as a trauma surgeon and her capstone project is with Sky Lakes Medical Center where she will see the medical profession first-hand.

When the senior non-commissioned officer in charge, Chief Master Sgt. Brian Wigen who retired from the 173rd Fighter Wing, reflects on what he hopes these high school students get in his classroom he sums it up with one word.

“Confidence,” he says. “I want them to leave and realize that ‘I can do this’. Hopefully they have the confidence to put themselves out there—succeed at a job interview, get that job, start creating those stepping stones for success in life.”

Dixon says she will look back fondly at her time in JROTC.

“Coming in as a freshman I didn’t know what I doing; this became my family inside the school, a safe place,” she adds.

Wigen reinforces that, saying that the program cuts across many of the cliques common to high school and that when it happens in the classroom it also bleeds over into the rest of their school life.

Ultimately he hopes to see these students move on to be good citizens, the stated goal of the program. Some will go on to serve in the military but many will not.

“A lot of people think that the program is a recruiting tool for the Air Force, but it isn’t; in fact, the number of cadets who go on to serve is about the same as the school as a whole,” said Wigen.