Delaware County Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (AFJROTC) is looking to grow, and the cadets in the program say it’s an opportunity to develop skills and relationships.
Retired USAF Lt. Col. F. Russ Anible oversees the program at Hayes High School, but the program includes cadets from the county’s eight high schools. Anible said because the general public usually only sees the cadets in their formal attire at events, it can cause some misconceptions.
“The misconceptions are understandable,” Anible said. “We look military, no denying, but we are working very hard to inform our public of the true value and true intent of the program. The real thrust of our program is summed up in our motto: Develop citizens of character. That’s what we’re about. Nowhere in our mission statement is ‘enlist’ or ‘recruit as many young men and women as possible.’ We want to prepare them for success in all career fields.”
Anible said that 85 percent of AFJROTC cadets don’t pursue careers in the military after high school, but the skills they learn in the program and class carry to virtually every career path.
A.J. Bell, a junior at Olentangy Orange High School and third-year cadet in the program, said Thursday that when he join the class as a freshman, he was reserved. After spending time in the program, however, he’s learned how to better interact with people.
“I wasn’t very social when I first came to high school,” Bell said. “(I really enjoyed) gaining the ability to interact with people and learning how to lead them to achieve a common goal.”
Bell said the class puts students in leadership roles, whether they think they are ready or not, and the experience teaches students a lot about themselves.
“You learn more about yourself and your abilities that you didn’t know you had,” Bell said. “…and it’s a safe space for failure. Trying again is what’s important. I was expecting it to be all military, but that’s not what we are here to do.”
Bell said he’s planning to attend Indiana State University to study unmanned programs and join the ROTC after graduation. Bell currently leads the drill team for the Delaware County AFJROTC.
Alex Naugle, a senior at Olentangy Orange and fourth-year cadet, said Thursday that the class has given her a “real confidence boost.”
“When I was first coming in, I didn’t want to talk at all, and I wasn’t really much for interacting with people I didn’t know,” Naugle said. “Being put into this program and into leadership positions really made me able to find my new self. I’m still who I am, but I think that I’m a better version of who I could have been if I didn’t join.”
Naugle, who is the cadet lieutenant colonel and commands the cadet corps, said she thought the program would be “all formal, all the time,” but she said it’s been “a lot of fun.” She added eighth-graders should try it.
“Try it because it may just be a class, but it can be a life lesson,” Naugle said. “I think that the leadership that comes with it is taught to be more of an encouraging leader than a strict leader.”
Naugle said she also plans to enlist in the USAF and plans to study to be a behavioral health specialist.
Patrick Beck, a sophomore at Hayes and second-year cadet, said he plans to study commercial aviation after he graduates, and the class and program have taught him essential skills.
“One of the big takeaways I’m getting out of this is the work ethic and being able to manage projects that one would encounter in a normal career these days,” Beck said. “In my first year, we talked about stress management … and that really helps a lot of people.”
Adam Willis, a sophomore at Hayes and a first-year cadet in the program, said the program has helped him develop as a person and foster friendships.
“I’ve had a huge confidence boost. I feel a lot better about myself and overall feel like a way better person than I was beforehand,” he said. “ROTC is like a family, and I have a connection with all the people on the drill team and the different flights.”
Anible said the class is an elective, and all of the other activities like compressed-air rifle marksmanship and drill team are optional. Anible added the class qualifies for the physical education waiver, and eighth-grade or high school students only need to speak to the counselors to join.
“(Our cadets) have a variety of interests, not just focused on militaristic things,” Anible said. “We have cadets who are athletes, musicians, and active in drama, and we’re very proud of that. We feel like these are eclectic young people, like Renaissance young men and women, and we’re very proud of that fact. That’s the message we want to send to students and parents. We take a balance approach to life; work hard, play hard. (The class is about) habits of success, whether you are headed to civilian or military careers.”
Glenn Battishill can be reached at 740-413-0903 or on Twitter @BattishillDG.