Hoosier high school students trade shorts and flip-flops for camouflage and combat boots at a different kind of summer camp
EDINBURGH, Ind. — Summer vacation wasn’t much of a rest for a group of Indiana high school students. They didn’t sleep late or play video games. They woke up at 6 a.m., rappelled from a 40-foot tower and crossed a stream using a rope bridge they built.
That was a typical day for 220 cadets, including several from Concordia Lutheran High School, in the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps last week. JROTC is an elective high school program that teaches ethical values and principles that transform good students into good citizens. As part of their studies, they trained for five days at Camp Atterbury, learning about what it takes to be a leader. The training was conducted by members of Indiana’s JROTC programs, the Indiana National Guard, and the Indiana Guard Reserve.
The high school students, a mix of sophomores, juniors and seniors came from 20 Indiana high schools. They had already proven themselves in the classroom and in extracurricular activities, such as athletics, music and school clubs. Now, it was time to put their teamwork and leadership skills to the test.
“We want to take good kids and make them even better in the process,” said Col. David Sholly, Director of Army Instruction at Indianapolis Public Schools. “The mission is to motivate young people. And that’s what we do.”
The motivation started early each morning with exercises that tested the cadets’ physical and cognitive skills. They led their teams through scenarios on the ground, in the water, and in the air that taught them how to think and act as one unit.
Cadet Lavon Smith, a senior at Muncie Central High School, said the program helped him work in a team.
“When I came here, I was quiet,” Smith said. “Then I got to know people and I’ve learned how to do things for other people. I’ve become a leader.”
Smith said he wants to attend Indiana University and join the National Guard.
Cadet Kevin McLaughlin, a senior at Ben Davis High School in Marion County, said he knows he wants to join the Marines. JROTC is helping him go down that path.
“It has changed my entire perspective on life,” McLaughlin said. “I’ve gotten more discipline and self respect than anyone can imagine. It turned me around.”
Cadet Devin Huber, an Evansville Harrison High School junior, agreed.
“It teaches you to feel better about yourself and feel more confident,” Huber said. “You work with people better.”
While Huber is not sure if he wants to join the military, Sholly said about 40 percent of JROTC cadets follow high school or college with some type of military service. That may include joining ROTC in college, attending a military academy, or enlisting in the armed forces. Whether or not they join the military, Sholly simply wants the students to plan ahead.
“We mention college as an option, we mention trade schools as an option, we mention just about anything as an option,” Sholly said. “When the cadet leaves high school, we want him or her to have a thought-out path to success, whatever it might be.”
Indiana Guard Reserve Officer Candidate Michael Paxton credits some of his success to JROTC. He trained at Camp Atterbury as a JROTC cadet when he was in high school more than 25 years ago. Now he’s teaching the cadets.
“It gave me an introduction to what being a leader and team member is all about,” Paxton said. “Now it’s great to give back what others have put into my life. I’ve enjoyed it a great deal.”
The cadets had plenty to enjoy outside of the training. In the evening, they played sports, watched movies, and got to know more about each other.
“I got to go out and socialize with people I’ve never seen before; they’re some of my best friends, now” said cadet Shad White, a junior at Blackford High School.
When they completed their training, each cadet received a t-shirt, pins, and badges, but most importantly, they got to experience the Army values in an intense but fun atmosphere.
Cadet Megan Lyons, a junior from Gary, summed up her feelings.
“Don’t turn back and quit,” Lyons said. “If you push yourself, you’ll be ready for anything.”
Cadet Sierrah Bobbitt, a sophomore at Evansville Central High School agreed.
“It’s awesome and amazing. I like something that’s daring and pushing myself over the limit.”
The summer JROTC Cadet Leadership Challenge is held by the Army JROTC and the Indiana Guard Reserve, a subordinate command of the Indiana National Guard that supplements it in its state defense missions by cooperating with the Indiana Department of Homeland Security and other agencies.
For more information about the Indiana Guard Reserve, visit www.mdisdf.org.
Founded in 1916, the Army JROTC program is a high school elective that was designed to motivate young people to be better citizens by making them aware of their rights, responsibilities and privileges as Americans. JROTC has grown to 1,645 schools with 280,000 cadets. For more information about the Army JROTC, visit www.usarmyjrotc.com.