by Joseph Sheeley
When I was in high school in the late 1980s, I joined the Army JROTC program. Unlike ROTC in college, many if not most of the people in JROTC would never enlist in the military. But the program offered leadership training, a taste of what the military was like, and unique activities not found elsewhere. It was these activities that interested me the most.
The main program was a class taught during one of your periods during the day. We would learn about things like leadership, hygiene, military history, and how to properly wear a uniform. There was some class time, but most of the time was spent in learning by doing.
We spent a good deal of time drilling, where we would learn to march as a group. The first step was to learn to be spaced by extending your arm and nudging your neighbor until he of she was one arm length out. After that we learned how to all start on our left foot, the various commands to start, “Forward, march,” to stop, ” Halt,” and to turn left and right. Turning was one of the most complicated maneuvers and we practiced it a lot.
We would use our marching skills at the Veteran’s Day parade each year. There we would march as companies in the parade. The course was about a mile long.
Another activity was marksmanship. We would set up targets and practice shooting with pellet rifles. Normally we would shoot into pellet traps, but one time we used the hay bales the archery team used at the base of their targets. My sister, who was on the archery team, wasn’t happy about the lead pellets that would damage their arrows in the hay.
Another big part of the program was formation day. This happened weekly on Wednesday mornings from about 7 AM until 7:45. Here we would all come to school in uniform and assemble in a large area in platoons and companies.
We would form, present the flag, then give out awards and promotions. From there we’d have announcements and then dismiss. The battalion commander would preside over it all, with his staff in front, then the companies, Alpha, Bravo, and Charlie assembled with two platoons each behind. The whole event was fully student run as was much of the program. Afterwards we’d spend the day in uniform, which was the Army uniform with special JROTC ranks and patches.
The cadets were organized into squads, which were part of platoons, then companies, then the battalion. Students were assigned positions, with freshman in squad leader roles, then older freshmen or sophomores m0ving up to platoon leader, and so on. Students were chosen by merit for these positions largely by the two instructors.
There were also staff positions, including the S1 who was responsible for issuing orders, which were normally awards and promotions, then S2 through S4. ( I really don’t remember what the S2 and S3 did.) The S4 was the supply lead who kept track of equipment and ordered ribbons and ranks. For more information about JROTC organization, go here.
I was a dedicated participant, always showing up with my uniform spotless and my shoes and brass elements well shined. I moved up quickly, becoming squad leader within a couple of months and the platoon leader by my sophomore year. I was hoping to then become company commander, but actually went over to the staff as S1 for a year, then up to Company Commander of Bravo Company. By my senior year, I was Battalion Commander. About midway through the year I was moved on up into an advisory role to let my XO take a turn at Battalion Commander.
Probably the times that I remember most were my time as an S1 and time as a Battalion Commander. The S1 was in charge of “orders,” which for our battalion normally meant promotions and awards (ribbons). A good friend of mine, Alan, was the S4, who was in charge of supplies. Each week the two instructors would give us a list of cadets who had earned promotions or awards, I would type up the orders in the computer, print them out on a dot matrix printer, and then give a copy to the Alan. He would order them from somewhere, then they would show up about two days later.
Now, our formation day was Wednesday, meaning that we would need the awards and ranks by Tuesday afternoon at the latest. I knew that it took a couple of days to receive them, so the latest we could order them was Friday afternoon. I would prefer to send them out by Thursday afternoon or even Wednesday. Still, I would frequently get requests on Monday morning or something, which would put a lot of stress on me because I knew they wouldn’t arrive in time. I guess I hadn’t learned the expression yet that “Your poor planning is not my emergency.”
The summer before I became Battalion Commander, the retired colonel who was in charge of all of the JROTC programs for the city invited us to his place for a retreat. I remember that a big issue he mentioned was the forming of cliques, which he said hurt morale. Trying to do a good job, I spent that summer writing up policies. One of these was the avoidance of cliques.
I posted my policy on the bulletin board. Within a day, I heard complaints from some of the students. “What do you mean we can’t hang out with our friends? Anyone can join us.” I gave up on the policy within a week or so.
In the next entry, I’ll start telling about the special teams, starting with the Ranger Team.
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