Published 8:52 pm Thursday, January 14, 2010
For hundreds of Suffolk students, picking out something to wear one day each week is much easier than for some others. For those students, members of Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps, a crisp, blue Air Force uniform is the dress of choice.
At each of Suffolk’s three high schools, the JROTC programs provide an elective course, designed around the core principals of the Air Force and providing a source of discipline, direction and predictability some are missing.
“By no means are we a military recruiting service,” King’s Fork AFJROTC Commanding Officer Lt. Col. Alfred Harris (Ret.) said. “Our mission is to help provide better citizens for America.”
In his fifth year at King’s Fork, and in the program’s fifth year, Harris said the cadets, while not in the military, are challenged to represent themselves and the Air Force well.
“We tell them the uniform they wear represents something much bigger than themselves,” Harris said. “It represents men and women who are defending their country and represents men and women who have given their lives for this country.
“When they are out in the community, we tell them to wear the uniform proudly, wear it correctly,” Harris said. “That is so important, especially in a community such as Suffolk with such a strong military presence.”
For Major Dale Blake, Commanding Officer of Lakeland High School’s AFJROTC program, the rewards include watching cadets develop from the first day of the class through graduation.
“We take great reward from watching a cadet come in here who was shy and reserved and develop into the type of leader who can take charge of a situation and lead,” Blake said. “It’s not about making them ready for the military or college, but making them ready for life.”
Combined with the AFJROTC program at Nansemond River, the schools offer the year-round program, which includes an Air Force-based curriculum, drill and competitions. But it is the confidence and structure that both Harris and Blake feel are the biggest values of the JROTC programs.
“Some students come here from homes that do not have a lot of rules, structure or discipline,” Blake said. “We offer them that. We offer them the predictability to better perform in life and in the classroom.”
The JROTC program is an elective that students can select each year similar to band and athletic programs.
“At the heart of our programs are the Air Force core values of integrity first, service above self and excellence in everything you do,” Harris said.