Marine JROTC program focuses on leadership
June 19, 2019
It was about 9 a.m. on a Saturday when about 160 high school students, in camo rows of green, marched into the quiet neighborhood, blasting out a cacophony of newly learned cadences.
Up front, a teen-aged cadet commander smiled happily as she led the hike, chatting with a program instructor, a retired artillery officer who spent nearly 30 years in the Marine Corps. Other cadets stood out, lost in American and Marine Corps flags draped across their bodies, covering everything except their tan, lace-up boots.
Such a scene might be a shock to the system to the homeowners, especially in a non-military town. But neighbors stopped and waved, some even applauding and others offering up words of encouragement or an “oorah” – the Marine Corps’ distinct battle cry.
Welcome to a day in the life in the Hendrickson High School Marine Junior ROTC.
Program structure, values
Begun in 2010, the program was originally established to support all of Pflugerville ISD, but steady growth eventually led to it being closed to transfers from outside Hendrickson. That, though, has changed, with intra-district transfers being accepted again.
“We believe what the students get out of this program, we should be able to show to students in the entire district, not just the population at Hendrickson,” said Battalion Lt. Col. Ronald Weston.
Weston and the battalion’s other leaders – Chief Warrant Officer 4 Matthew Carter and First Sgt. Ed Amadis, both retired – each noted the program’s focus on leadership, teamwork and citizenship. Initial classes count as physical education credits, while later ones are electives.
The Marine Corps’ core values of honor, courage and commitment shape the backbone of the program, with lessons on military history, marksmanship, close order drill and physical fitness among other subjects.
Modeled after the military rank structure, the program allows students to develop leadership traits, but at a faster clip, Carter noted. However, the program is student-led, with cadets serving as mentors and tasked with a variety of responsibilities, with program instructors providing “a little bit of stress” to accelerate growth, Amadis noted.
“By the time you’re a senior, you could be in charge of anywhere from 30 to 250 students,” said Amadis, who retired after 20 years in the Marine Corps. “By the time they’re juniors, hopefully you’re seeing the light bulb in their heads. They’re seeing their potential and start pushing themselves.”
Carter, a former drill instructor, pointed out the program’s structure is aimed at helping students learn from life lessons – often through community service, but also through their own mistakes – in a supportive environment.
“We try to pool all resources,” Carter said. “We don’t like the ‘lone wolf’ mentality. Everybody needs help.”
And despite its military influence, the program isn’t meant to encourage military enlistment. Typically, only about one-third join the military, Weston added.
From the cadets
When he first joined the program as a freshman, Cadet Capt. Danny Nguyen figured it was only on a trial basis, but that changed quickly.
“I wanted to see what it was about, thinking I could join and leave,” he said. “But I joined and stayed.”
Cadet Gunnery Sgt. Madeleine Sengupta at one point was faced with a class conflict that forced her to decide to either advance in band or leave her JROTC class. The decision wasn’t easy but she followed her instincts.
“Obviously, I stayed here,” Sengupta said. “This is my home.”
Once an introverted student prone to keeping within a small friends group, Cadet First Sgt. Jaron Martinez has grown accustomed to being a role model for others, to be relied upon when others seek help with issues in and out of the classroom.
“It’s had a really big impact on my life,” Martinez said. “I’ve seen a Jurassic-sized change from the person I used to be freshman year.”
For more information on the Hendrickson High School Marine Junior ROTC program, please visit hhsmcjrotc.weebly.com .
Pflugerville ISD recently reopened the intra-district transfer window for the 2019-20 school year. The window closes June 28. For more information on intra-district transfers, please visit PfISD.net/Intra-districtTransfers .