Training Tomorrow’s Leaders: North Brunswick High School JROTC

by Jan 27, 2016Across the Cape Fear, Brunswick County, North Brunswick

Despite the lengthy walk from the main building at North Brunswick High School to the Army JROTC building at the back of the property, students hurry along the connecting sidewalks to get there on time for classes. Flanking the building are fields where students do physical fitness exercises, play soccer, football and other games, or practice drills. Often students come to the building in their free time to study, use the computer lab or seek advice from the instructors.

“The instructors are so cool,” says Cadet Capt. Lizbeth Buenrostro, a senior.

Three other students nod in agreement.

“They’re like your mom,” adds Cadet 1st Lt. Kianna McGriff, a junior. “They are like family.”

These students lavish praise on the personnel, the program and the other members of JROTC, Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps. This voluntary program has its own national curriculum with components that include leadership, discipline, citizenship and other character-building skills. The courses count toward elective credits required for graduation by the State of North Carolina.

Only retired military personnel qualify to be JROTC instructors. The three at North Brunswick High School (NBHS) emphasize the importance of education and teach study skills. They help students prepare for SAT tests, provide guidance in choosing a college and assist students when they apply for college.

“Parents appreciate what we do, and we appreciate the parents,” says 1st Sgt. George Williams.

“We have one of the better programs on the East Coast,” says Sgt. 1st Class Timothy Washington. “Our program is on a higher level.”

Senior Army Instructor Lt. Col. LeeRoy Hanna Jr. explains that drill team, rifle team and raider team, which involves adventure and physical fitness, are among the extracurricular activities the program offers. The JROTC teams earned 36 trophies during the 2010-11 school year. Also during that school year, the 10-member rifle team came in No. 1 of all the Army rifle teams in North Carolina, according to the civilian marksmanship program. Each member earns an average of 245 points of a possible 300.

“They teach us marksmanship and gun safety,” says Jared Sarkela, a junior and 1st Lieutenant in JROTC. Sarkela receives the highest scores of any other member of the rifle team with 270-plus in competitions, but he values other benefits of being in JROTC.

“It made me more of a leader and more confident,” he says. His father is a veteran of the Marine Corps, and Sarkela plans to attend college before joining the Marines.

Cadet Capt. Michael King, a senior and Alpha Company Commander, shoots the second highest with scores in the 260s. He plans to attend college and have a career in the Army. “[JROTC] builds your confidence and leadership when you’re in charge of 50 people,” he says.

“We teach the kids, and they teach the others,” Williams says. “We facilitate them.”

Students present the colors at ceremonies, march in parades, appear in uniform as guides at events and perform other civic duties. Social activities are also part of the program. Students are looking forward to the school’s 40th Military Ball in February and their end-of-year trip to Washington, D.C.

“This is a program where they can succeed,” Williams says. “We teach them values. We motivate them to be better citizens.”

Hanna explains that the students assume responsibilities and lead the battalion in addition to participating in the activities the program offers.

“The goal is to be a better citizen, to give back,” Hanna says. “Students can find something where they fit in and get the same sense of accomplishment that students in other extracurricular activities and electives achieve.”

Hanna spent 22 years in the military and received several commendations, including the Meritorious Service Medal, Army Commendation Medal and National Defense Service Medal. He taught ROTC at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington before he established the JROTC program in Whiteville in 1993. After 14 years there, he came to NBHS to be senior instructor. He has a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from the University of Delaware and a master’s degree in human relations from Webster University in St. Louis, Mo. He and his wife, Susan, a nurse at New Hanover Regional Medical Center, live in Wilmington. They have three grown children. Their son, Ryan, is a captain in the U.S. Army Reserve.

Williams came to NBHS in 1999 after 20 years of active service. A Gulf War veteran, he received the Bronze Star for heroic service, the Meritorious Service Medal and several other military service awards. He earned a bachelor’s degree in leadership from Bellevue University in Nebraska. He and his wife, Alicia, live in Leland. One son is married with two children. Their son, Kenyon, is a midshipman at the Naval Academy.

Washington, also a Gulf War veteran, earned the Meritorious Service Medal, Humanitarian Service Medal and several other military awards during his 21 years in the Army. He came to the JROTC program at NBHS in 2002 and received his bachelor’s degree in emergency management and public safety from Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, Ariz. He lives in Wilmington with his wife, Aileen. They have three grown children and two grandchildren.

Although the students quoted here plan to enter the military, commitment to service is not a requirement to join JROTC. About 20 percent of the school is enrolled in the program. Of the 187 cadets, about 5 percent will enter the military.

“As a program, I want ours to continue to be the most elite program on the East Coast,” Washington says. “Every year we strive to be better and better. Every event we go to, we bring back trophies. I want to take the program to the highest level we can.”

“I want students to be productive and become outstanding young men and women,” Williams says. “I want to look back and say I helped some young men and women succeed.”

The students feel this striving.

“The program and instructors push you to always try your best at everything, and be a good person,” Buenrostro says.

The NBHS JROTC instructors hope to raise enough money to build a 50×100 foot multi-purpose metal building with a rifle range and other indoor facilities, which would help improve their program. The past two fund-raising golf tournaments garnered $12,000, but the building will cost about $75,000. “That’s bare bones,” Hanna says.

These instructors will persevere with their goals because they care about their students’ welfare.

“If you don’t care about them, this isn’t the place to be,” Williams says.

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