JROTC Program Trains Leaders, Builds 'Family'

  • Published
  • By TSgt. Dan Heaton
  • 127th Wing Public Affairs
Editor's note: First in a two-part series about Air Force-supported youth programs near Selfridge Air National Guard Base, Mich.

Can a combat veteran and first sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps and a high school student both have the same ideas about leadership?

Consider these comments, one from the 18-year veteran of the Marines and one from a high school junior:

"I learned when to express authority and when not to. I learned there is more than one way to be a leader and at different times you need to use different ways."


"The program gave me different experiences with different types of leaders with different styles of leadership. (It) broadened my awareness of where I wanted to go and what I wanted to be."

The first comment is from Nicholas Babu. He is in the 11th grade at Anchor Bay High School near New Baltimore, Mich. In the next school year, he is slated to serve as the cadet corps commander of the Air Force Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps, JROTC, at the school. The second is from 1st Sgt. David Auwen. He was the first cadet corps commander at Anchor Bay High when the AFROTC program was re-established there in the early 1990s. Today, he is the first sergeant of headquarters company of the 1st Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment, based at nearby Selfridge Air National Guard Base.

"Being a cadet really set me up for success early in my Marine Corps career," said Auwen, who deployed to Iraq twice. "I had already been mentored and learned from my mistakes as a JROTC cadet. That really helped me be a better Marine."

That kind of talk is music to the ears of retired Air Force Col. Jeffrey Carrothers and retired Master Sgt. Steve Wratchford, who serve as the instructors of the AFJROTC program at Anchor Bay. Not, they both quickly point out, just because Auwen is wearing a military uniform, but because he is successful in his chosen profession.

"We are not building up young people for military service, but we are building better citizens for America," said Wratchford, who has been an aerospace science instructor at Anchor Bay for 20 years. "Dave's doing it in uniform, but the goal is to make leaders in their community. We don't push kids to the military. We don't get anything extra if one of our students enlists. We work to instill leadership skills so the students can be a success in whatever lies ahead."

Just over 100 students at Anchor Bay High School are part of the AFROTC program. The students all attend one class period every day in AFROTC and are able to participate in a number of other programs run by the cadet corps, including community service projects, field trips, drill team competitions and an annual summer visit to a high ropes confidence course.

Being a cadet has helped Mae Stell - a 12th grade student and the current cadet corps commander - develop her own plan for after high school. Stell will attend Xavier University in Cincinatti, Ohio, and intends to be part of the Army ROTC program there, which will help pay for her education. She hopes to use that education to become a nurse in the military after she finishes her schooling.

"Being a cadet in the program gave me confidence in myself and in my own abilities," Stell said. "Through the ropes course, meeting new people, the different activities that we do. The corps has opened my eyes to realize what opportunities even existed."

Stell, like all of the cadets in the program, has worked closely with Carrothers to formulate her plans for her life after high school.

"All of my seniors meet with me several times throughout the year - and the younger students, too - and we talk about 'OK, what's the dream?' I have three criteria for them: it has to be something legal, something they enjoy and something they will be good at," Carrothers said. "And then we start working with that student to show them the steps to reaching their goals and to move toward their dreams."

Carrothers estimates that in recent years around 25 percent of the graduates of the JROTC program at Anchor Bay have served in the military in one capacity or another after high school, but he stresses that military service is just one option for students.

"Mae Stell is a good example of what we try to help each student accomplish. Not because she wants to go into the military, but because she has a dream and it is a good, realistic dream and we are able to help her move one step closer to that dream," said Carrothers, sitting in his classroom at the high school after the final bell had rung on a recent afternoon.

While Carrothers and Wratchford - who both retired after more than 20 years of active duty service in the Air Force - work as full-time instructors at the school, they also rely on the program's extended family for support.

"That's really what it is, is a family," said Technical Sgt. Ninette LeRay, during a recent classroom visit. LeRay was the second corps commander at Anchor Bay - she followed Auwen - and today is a command post controller with the 127th Wing of the Michigan Air National Guard, also at Selfridge.

Both LeRay and Auwen serve as judges and inspectors when the Anchor Bay corps hosts an annual drill team competition in October.

"I come back year after year and I see the kids as they progress through the program. They seem to stand a little taller and you can see their self-esteem develop," she said. "What they have in the cadet corps is the same thing Dave and I had, a place where you can belong, where you are a team and people care about you."

LeRay's late father was a member of the Michigan Air National Guard at Selfridge and she grew up wanting to be part of an organization where people were valued.

"I found that first in the ROTC and then when I joined the military myself," she said. "You're part of a team where people want and expect you to advance and succeed."

Cadet Emily Johnson said she originally joined the cadet corps at Anchor Bay primarily because she was interested in using the program as a vehicle toward earning college scholarship funds.

"But I found out it is like being a part of a big family," she said. "There's all different sorts of people, but we all get along well, because we are all part of the same team."

More information on the Air Force Junior ROTC program is available here: http://www.au.af.mil/au/holmcenter/AFJROTC/AboutJROTC.asp