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NJROTC prepares students for life ahead

Shelton-Mason County Journal of Shelton, Washington

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As a freshman entering Shelton High School (SHS), William Remington knew very little about what he wanted to with his life, aside from wanting to make a difference and earn a lot of money doing it. He recalled watching a presentation in middle school by members of the Naval Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (NJROTC), and decided it would be a good idea to at least sign up and give it a try. Today Remington is a cadet senior chief petty officer in his third year with the program, aspiring to make the most out of what he anticipates will be a very successful career in the nation's armed forces.

"There are hundreds of doors ROTC has opened up for me," he said in an interview earlier this week. "They've set me up incredibly for life beyond high school."

Remington has been selected from more than 75,000 NJROTC members in over 690 units across the U.S. and its territories to join 200 others for a weeklong, all-expenses-paid trip to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida beginning June 13. There, students will be given a chance to experience life in a college with one of the most advanced, extensive ROTC programs in the country, while receiving training in flight simulation and aeronautic engineering.

Before this latest opportunity, he and four others in his unit were permitted to attend an exclusive Northwest Leadership Academy held at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, where participants were given instruction by high-ranking military personnel on color guard and formation marching, as well as both armed and unarmed drill exercises.

"It was a lot of fun and I got a lot of good experiences from it," said Remington. "Navy divers helped me become second-class swim qualified. I learned how it is to go to sleep and get up as a team, and was taught a lot about group dynamics. I also spoke with ranking military personnel."

For 32 years the U.S. Navy has offered students a learning experience unlike any other at SHS, designed to develop leadership potential and an understanding about the many roles people in the military serve in around the world. The four-year program puts them through a rigorous and diverse curriculum covering every aspect of naval operations, including ships and aviation, history, science, astronomy, meteorology, oceanography, national security and international law.

"It's a much more controlled environment," said Captain Ken Bixler, the high school's ROTC instructor. "When the bell rings, they all stand at attention and one cadet takes roll. The students have leadership positions where they are responsible for something and have people under them. The peer pressure keeps them all in line."

Bixler spent 31 years on active duty before coming to Shelton, serving as the director of the naval command college in Newport, Rhode Island, and as commanding officer of the naval base in Corpus Christi, Texas. His ROTC unit is the second oldest in the state, he said, and is currently ranked first in the Navy's Olympic District drill team competition. His students also compete on naval color guard teams, a strength team and an airrifle team, practicing early each morning and after school to perfect their skills.

This is junior Nikita Huckabey's third year participating on the unit's drill team.

"The competition is so much fun. It's not all about rivalry. You get to hang out with a great group of kids and we are very friendly with one another," she said. "ROTC has given me a lot of confidence and a place to fit in. We learn so much more in that class."

Huckabey manages all of the paperwork and certificates in her unit, ensuring students file their promotion applications properly, and that they have fulfilled all of the necessary duties and testing necessary to receive them. This ranking system helps illustrate the time and effort students have put into the program, she said, and tests them on the information they retained from their lessons. Students recently added a drill test to these requirements, adding an increasing level of difficulty with each rank they want to pursue.

ROTC goes a long way in helping students advance quickly in a military career, said Bixler. Members finish basic training ahead of their peers in both pay and rank, and have access to scholarships exclusive to participants. The program is not intended to be used as a recruiting tool, however, and only a small number of students who enter into it choose to pursue military service.

"It's there to help everyone be as good as they can be, and gives people a good basis of life and leadership skills," said junior Max Crain. "Our goal is to instill a sense of pride and discipline in the nation's youth."

Students interviewed said others at the high school are often misinformed about the program and its activities, and have a difficult time looking past the uniforms and drills to see it as anything other than a boot camp. Crain remembered feeling nervous the first time he walked into the class two years ago. The bell rang, and students stood at attention while representatives from designated groups reported their daily attendance. He soon became comfortable with the unit's conformed structure, however, and today is responsible for its efforts to educate parents and students about the NJROTC and how it can benefit people's lives and careers.

"I'm really glad the youth of Shelton can participate in a good thing; not every high school has an ROTC program," he said. "We're all family here; we care for each other and take care of each other. Only the few people who take the time to listen and eventually join can understand what we're about."

Copyright 2010 Shelton-Mason County Journal, Shelton, Washington. All Rights Reserved. This content, including derivations, may not be stored or distributed in any manner, disseminated, published, broadcast, rewritten or reproduced without express, written consent from SmallTownPapers, Inc.

Original Publication Date: March 4, 2010

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