The Washington Navy Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (NJROTC) program has over 100 cadets — a membership high.
“One hundred cadets is very critical because if we can maintain 100 for two consecutive October enrollment reports, then we can apply to be a funded unit,” said Marine Master Sgt. Tim Gates.
Since its inception in the 2014-15 school year, students from both Washington High School and St. Francis Borgia Regional High School have been part of the program. This year, Union High School students were allowed to enter for the first time.
Currently, there are 12 SFBRHS students, 24 UHS students and 74 WHS students for a total of 110 cadets. Adding Union helped the program cross the 100 cadet threshold.
“The only challenge was fitting them into the schedule,” Gates said.
Union High School cadets catch a 7 a.m. bus to travel to Washington High School where the classes are taught.
“So basically they have to come to school an hour early,” Gates said. “They get out of here and get back in time for their second period class. It really shows that those cadets are committed. I wouldn’t have gone to school an hour early when I was in high school.”
The NJROTC curriculum is approved by the Department of Defense and starts with Naval Science 1. The class is offered as a regular high school elective course.
Students have regular class time and military training incorporated in the class. They also participate in many extracurricular events with the area JROTC and Navy programs.
The addition of Union students is the biggest change, but a construction project funded by the Washington School District also helped the program.
“We were able to add a dedicated armory to store our weapons in, which freed up some space for our supplies,” Gates said. “Our supply room was getting to the point where it was running over with stuff. They (Washington High School) provided an extra wall for hanging space and built the armory to move the weapons out.”
This will be Gates’ third year as the NJROTC instructor for Washington. It is his 18th year involved in the NJROTC.
Gates served 20-plus years in the U.S. Marines from August 1981 to October 2001. He was a tank crewman and served on both the M60A1 Main Battle Tank and the M1A1 Main Battle Tank.
“Having 15 years of experience when I came here made it pretty easy from the get-go,” Gates said. “I kind of knew how a unit was supposed to run and the things you need to look for and prioritize to make sure the unit is functional. The unit was in good shape when I got here, minus the enrollment numbers. My experience and really trying to get the kids involved in recruiting has helped build the enrollment up.”
With enrollment above 100 cadets, Gates said the program has hit its biggest goal. Earning an end of the year award is another goal.
“Last year the cadets earned a unit of achievement award,” he said. “It means you’re in the top 50 percent in the schools in the area. We definitely want to win an end of the year award again.”
The unit also is trying to complete at least 2,000 community service hours. The cadets currently have earned 500 hours.
“Our biggest community service project thus far has been volunteering for the Alzheimer’s Walk,” Gates said. “ We had a total of 33 cadets participate that day from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. We also do Adopt A Highway on Highway 100 East. We have worked the Whitetails Unlimited fundraiser, as well as the Friends of the NRA event in Sullivan. We assist the athletic department of WHS by working the cross-country and track and field meets. We also do a large number of color guards throughout the year for different organizations.”
Community service is an important component.
“The Navy really pushes it as a citizenship development program,” Gates said. “I’m not a recruiter and I don’t try to put kids in the military.”
But, Gates will help a cadet if asked for his advice to help them make an informed decision.
“If they decide that is something they would want, then I try to guide them to the branch of the military that I think they would be best suited for,” he said. “I try to make sure that they understand the pros and the cons of being in the military. It’s easy to sit around and talk about all the good times, but you have to remember the bad times too. I want to make sure they make as informed of a decision as they can possibly make.”
The JROTC program is conducted at accredited secondary schools throughout the nation, by instructors who are retired Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard officers and enlisted personnel.
The NJROTC curriculum emphasizes citizenship and leadership development, as well as maritime heritage, the significance of sea power and naval topics such as the fundamentals of naval operations, seamanship, navigation and meteorology.
The Washington unit is supported by a booster club that includes parents of cadets. The Washington Chapter of the Korean War Veterans Association also has supported the cadets with their fundraising program.
Classroom instruction is augmented throughout the year by community service activities, drill competition, field meets, flights, visits to naval activities, marksmanship training and other military training.