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I sit on a chair outside of the Staff Office, and examine myself in the floor-length mirror provided us for the inspection. Picking out minor flaws, I adjust my medal and my ribbon bars, each a sign of an accomplishment over my few years in the program, ranging from perfect attendance to academic achievement on tests. Slowly, I begin to reminisce about the past few years, and what JROTC has taught me.
I was a rebellious kid, one who accepted no authority other than my own, questioning everyone who claimed to have a reason to order me around. At the same time, I was shy and awkward with my peers. I only took JROTC as a class to escape the horrors of freshman PE. But soon after I entered the classroom, I was mesmerized by the program. I was taken in by the pageantry of the military style and the suaveness that the uniform gave the cadets. Before long, I had memorized the Cadet’s Creed, and assumed a position of leadership as a Squad Leader, the head of a small group of about 10 other students. I spent all of my spare time in the JROTC classroom. I abandoned the “teen lit” books I had been reading and began studying the Cadet Reference Pamphlet and our textbook in every moment I had free, as well as the writings of the military historians and strategists Sun Tzu and Carl von Clausewitz. My days were dedicated to studying Drill, marching in precision formations together, as a company.
However, for all of my reading and thinking, my intellectual commitment to the program, I lacked an active involvement. I had not joined the actual Drill Team, and I hadn’t attempted to rise in rank. JROTC hadn’t helped me become less shy or shut in. At the end of my sophomore year, I took a large step, applying to become a member of the battalion staff, the group of officers who oversee the collective student body of JROTC, about 125 in all. Every member of the staff has an individual job to do, which all mesh together to see that the battalion completes every task set before it, and excels. I’m not sure what it was that made me apply, but perhaps I felt a responsibility to the organization that changed my entire perspective.
I received the position of S-4, one of two Logistics officers who coordinate the distribution of uniform materials to all students. This was the point where ROTC began to change my life for the better in a considerable manner. I gained the discipline I had once lacked, and instead of thrashing out at all of the people with authority around me, that discipline helped temper my formerly rebellious nature. I was given trust for many thousands of dollars worth of government property. My work ethic both in and out of JROTC improved, and I had fewer problems with authority figures than ever before in my life. At last, I even joined the Drill Team, and though I found the maneuvers difficult at first, over time they became easier, and I gained confidence in my ability to accomplish something that was hard for me.
Which brought me to the chair outside of the Staff Office, ready to interview to become the highest possible officer in the program for my school. I realized that JROTC had helped me become an adult, in a way. I learned how to take responsibility, I learned how to do a job right the first time rather than having to correct my mistakes. But most importantly, I actually learned to interact with other people in a meaningful and productive way. My name was called, and I strode into the office, looked my commanding officers in the eyes, and began to salute.
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