Tim Frankenberg admits there were a number of reasons why he was opposed to his son, Braedyn, signing up with the Navy National Defense Cadet Corp Washington (NJROTC) program for his freshman year at St. Francis Borgia Regional High School. But the biggest reason was he believed it to be strictly a recruiting tool for the military.

The program, which is offered through Washington High School for students attending either WHS or SFBRHS, is still new to the area, only in its third year. And last school year when Braedyn was eager to sign up, Tim Frankenberg wasn’t yet familiar with all that the program had to offer.

But in reading the literature and talking with the instructor, Lt. Tim Raines, Frankenberg had a change of heart. More than that, he completely reversed his opinion.

Braedyn is now in his second year with the program, and Frankenberg is serving as president of its new boosters club.

“Looking at the program now and understanding what it is and what it does for these kids, I love it,” Frankenberg remarked. “In my mind, it is the best kept secret out there.

“The real idea of this program is citizenship and leadership,” said Frankenberg. “That’s what they are really trying to develop in these kids. It’s a good lesson in American history, too.”

“I agree totally,” said Scott Grayson, whose son Luke, also a student at SFBRHS, is a junior in the program.

What many parents may not realize, Grayson noted, is that the program is not a recruiting tool at all. In fact, less than 1 percent of the cadets will decide to enlist after they graduate.

Yet the program offers training in many areas today’s students are looking for, including STEM training (through its cyber security club), leadership, self-discipline and self-confidence.

“Most of these cadets have titles of their own, a hierarchy of their own — commanding officer, administrative officer, platoon commanders . . . ,” said Grayson. “They have to understand leadership and structure, those chains of command. And as Luke said, it’s not necessarily about how to lead all of the time; it’s also about learning how to follow. There is just as much emphasis on learning how to follow properly as there is leadership.”

Why NNDCC, Not NJROTC?

The boosters club includes parents of cadets from both WHS and SFBRHS. Their mission is twofold, said Frankenberg — help raise funds for the program and educate the community, especially parents of potential cadets, about its benefits.

The two goals go hand-in-hand, because right now, the program doesn’t officially qualify as an NJROTC (Navy Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps) program because the number of enrolled cadets is too low. And that means that the Navy cannot provide any funds for the program.

Funding for NNDCC programs is left up to the host schools, Lt. Raines explained. The program has to meet a number of criteria to qualify as an official NJROTC, including have a minimum of 100 cadets enrolled in the program for two years in a row.

Currently, the Washington program has 65 cadets. The number has been as high as 75.

Lt. Raines expects the program to hit the 100-cadet mark, especially with the boosters club giving it so much support.

Military Ball

The second annual Military Ball, to be held Saturday, Feb. 4, at the KC Hall in Washington, is being organized by the boosters club.

See sidebar for details and ticket information.

In addition to being a fun opportunity to celebrate the program, the ball — which is one of the mandatory requirements the program needs to offer to qualify as an NJROTC — offers educational opportunities for the cadets and a way to showcase the program to the community, said Frankenberg.

“It’s a great way to see the cadets in action,” he remarked. “It’s their ball, so they are very actively involved in the entire process. The entire program is put on by the cadets.”

And it’s impressive, said Tiffani Frankenberg, Tim’s wife.

“At last year’s ball, for me, just seeing them that way, interacting with the public, you could see how they are being molded into men,” she said. “It was raining that day, just pouring, and all the cadets were so polite, helping people to and from their cars with umbrellas. I had people coming up to me for weeks afterward saying, ‘I just want to tell you how happy we were that those young men were there.’ ”

Many people who attended also commented on how polite and respectful the cadets were, considering their young age and inexperience, Tiffani Frankenberg noted.

That too is an objective of the ball, said Lt. Raines, for the cadets to learn proper etiquette in formal settings.

“They’re learning about military officer lifestyle. They need to understand and appreciate the formality of it and etiquette,” Lt. Raines said.

The ball includes customs, courtesies, ceremonies and military traditions like rendering honors to dignitaries and senior officers with the ringing of a bell as they enter the room. The cadets also get to showcase what they’re learning with the Color Guard or a flag folding ceremony or setting up a POW/MIA table.

“What does each thing set at a POW/MIA table mean? Most people don’t know that, but after rehearsing that and going through it, that really brings it home for these cadets,” said Lt. Raines.

The ball is open to anyone who would like to attend, and the boosters are hopeful, in fact, that people who are not familiar with the program will come to see what it’s all about.

Although the words “military ball” may sound intimidating and too formal, everyone will be made to feel welcome and comfortable, said Grayson.

“People may sometimes wonder, ‘What is the protocol? Where do I go? What do I need to do?’ But it’s not like that,” he said. “You go in, you mingle, you sit down. You don’t need to know the military protocol.”

Rather, the ball is a simple way to show support for the program and help facilitate its growth, said Grayson.

Support Activities, Leadership Camps

The boosters have held raffles to raise funds for the program to support the cadets in their activities, and other organizations have contributed to the program too, including the Korean War Veterans Association, VFW, American Legion, White Tails Unlimited and the NRA.

Grayson describes the military ball as the boosters’ “Super Bowl” event, but it’s not their ultimate fundraiser.

“It’s more of an event to recognize the military and if we make a little money, then that’s good too, but moving forward, increased corporate sponsorship is our ultimate goal,” said Grayson. “This (ball) is more marketing, getting the presence out there, educating people about the program.”

The funds that the boosters raise are used to provide necessities of the program, things like uniforms (an ongoing expense) and equipment, as well as extras, like helping to send the cadets to air rifle competitions, cyber security competitions or summer leadership camps.

“The funds can be used for anything associated with making these men and women better cadets in working with the ROTC program,” said Frankenberg.

Sending cadets to the National Flight Academy in Pensacola, Fla., each summer is a perfect example. The cost is $1,250 per cadet, but many families can’t afford to pay that out of pocket, or at least not the entire amount, so Lt. Raines works with groups like the VFW and the American Legion to provide scholarships, bringing that cost down.

Now the boosters club can help with that expense, too.

However, once the program hits the 100-cadet mark and officially becomes an NJROTC, the Navy will provide that funding, Lt. Raines noted.

The boosters club is doing all that it can to help the program reach that 100-cadet mark as soon as possible.

“Lt. Raines is a school teacher like any other teacher, but all summer long he’s still doing activities with his students, making them better, pushing them a little further,” said Tim Frankenberg. “And that’s the neat thing about the program. It doesn’t stop in May. There are things planned in June, July . . . so we are sort of building those programs, supporting those, anywhere he needs support to keep the program moving forward.”

What the Cadets Experience

Of the 65 students enrolled in the program at Washington, only eight are female. That’s extremely low, said Lt. Raines, who pointed out that many JROTC programs have at least 50 percent or more female involvement.

The breakdown between the schools right now is 52 from WHS and 13 from SFBRHS, which Lt. Raines feels is a good number to build on.

“I think it’s increasing. We’ll have more come out,” he said, especially as more students and parents learn about the scholarship opportunities open to the cadets.

Already two cadets from the Washington program, Christopher Dobsch in 2016 and Dane Brautigam in 2015, were awarded the NROTC scholarship valued at up to $180,000 each. That scholarship is limited to cadets who plan to enlist in the military, Lt. Raines noted, but there are others available to all students, and the skills they develop through the NJROTC program give them a decided advantage.

Although cadets are not expected to enlist in the military after graduation, the program includes lessons on the environment in which naval forces operate and the cadets are given an understanding of the naval community, its missions, goals and benefits, said Lt. Raines. They study the heritage and development of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps.

All cadets are expected to complete at least 10 hours of community service per semester, and these are intended to be completed as a group, not as an individual, said Lt. Raines.

Once a week, cadets are expected to wear their uniform in a manner that’s conducive and fits the military lifestyle and the military uniform requirements.

All the cadets complete certain coursework and leadership training, but there also are extracurricular clubs for those who excel or enjoy certain aspects and want more.

There is orienteering (navigation), cyber-security (preventing vulnerabilities in the computer networking system), color guard, air rifle teams and PT or physical training.

Each of these extracurriculars have a competitive aspect that includes competing against other NJROTC teams from other schools, said Lt. Raines, but since the program doesn’t receive funding, rather than travel to the schools, they mail in the Washington students’ scores.

At a recent competition, the Washington air rifle team ranked No. 50 out of nearly 200 teams, said Lt. Raines.

“One cadet, Alicia Ley, shot a 245 where the high score was 298. I think overall shooting she may be ranked like No. 15,” said Lt. Raines.

And while the military is known for its rigorous physical requirements, the cadets are not put through overly physical drills.

“There are no hard, intense physical requirements for our program, but the cadets who want to get into that, can with the PT club,” said Lt. Raines.

“I do leadership academies over the summer where we have 60-foot rapelling towers, we’ll do boat operations on the river, we’ll learn swims, they’ll do runs . . . ”

All of the cadets in the program get exposed to a little bit of everything, and anything they really love, they can follow up and do more.

“It’s all about what they’re interested in,” said Lt. Raines.