Personal development – not military recruitment – is the primary mission of Warren County High School’s Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps program (JROTC), the local unit’s senior instructor told McMinnville Noon Rotary Club members.
The program’s mission statement puts top priority on “motivating young people to be better citizens” and to “develop ethical values and good citizenship,” said Army retired Lt. Col. Bruce Gipson, who, along with 1st Sgt. Tim Howard, serves as mentor and teacher in the award-winning outfit.
Not all students graduating from the JROTC program go into military service, but the personal values of respect, discipline, self-reliance, teamwork and perseverance help build the foundation for successful and fulfilling lives in any vocation, Gipson said. Nationwide studies show JROTC students have higher attendance and graduation rates, better GPAs and lower disciplinary incidence when compared to their high school peers, Gipson said.
“Our cadets address us with ‘yes, sir’ and ‘no, sir,’” Gipson said. But in mutual respect, the instructors address the students similarly with “yes sir, no sir, yes ma’am, no ma’am.”
“For some of these young people this is the only predictable stability in their lives,” Gipson continued, citing the dysfunction and turmoil in the home life of many students. For these teens, JROTC offers a healthy, dependable model of constructive social interaction, instilling values and habits of thought that will help them succeed in any of their post-high school pursuits, he said.
The cultivation of self-esteem based on discipline and hard work, Gipson emphasized, can be a life-changing pivot for students. “I’ve had people come up and tell me a student is a totally different person from what he or she was four years ago.”
For those WCHS graduates who want to enter the military, the cadet experience and training gives them an advantage as they approach a major hurdle to enlistment – the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB). Only 3-in-10 current applicants are accepted in the military, with the primary factor in rejection being inability to pass the ASVAB, Gipson stated. WCHS cadets are, therefore, strongly encouraged to excel academically.
The second leading cause of rejection is medical problems, primarily obesity, asthma and diabetes. In third is moral disqualification, including illegal drug use.
But even with the 70 percent rejection rate, the U.S. military is presently able to meet its recruitment targets because the private sector has pulled back the “help wanted” sign for high school graduates who have not attained higher level skills training or college degrees, the Rotary speaker said. If the job market returns to good health, however, military enlistment standards might have to be slightly relaxed, Gipson noted.
The JROTC program, founded in 1909 at Ft Leavenworth, is so highly desired by local communities that some 300 high schools, mostly in the Southeast United States, are on the waiting list for Department of Defense authorization and funding, Gipson said. In the context of total U.S. defense expenditures, the annual cost of all JROTC programs is barely visible – $163 million – he commented.
JROTC has earned and maintained national academic accreditation and the Warren County program has independently achieved the coveted accreditation of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), the guest speaker reported.
A McMinnville native and 1989 graduate of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Gipson was commissioned second lieutenant in the U.S. Army from the UT ROTC. In more than 20 years of active duty in Europe, Asia and the Middle East, he had combat duty in Operation Iraqi Freedom with the Screaming Eagles of the 101st Airborne Division under Gen. David Patraeus.
His Special Operations service includes work with the Fort Campbell aviation regiment that flew Navy Seal Team 6 to Pakistan, where the elite commandos killed the world’s most wanted terrorist, Osama bin Laden.