High school program allows students to experience Air Force lifestyle

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Brigitte Brantley
  • 23rd Wing Public Affairs
There is a program available in many high schools that gives students the opportunity to experience what a career in the Air Force has to offer before they graduate.

The Air Force Junior ROTC offers students in grades nine through 12 the chance to study aviation history, aerospace science and leadership principles, all of which are fundamentals taught to trainees who attend basic military training.

"AFJROTC helps students tremendously, because in this program they are taught accountability for both themselves and their actions," said retired Maj. Norene Olsen, senior aerospace science instructor for the GA-081 unit, located at Lowndes High School, Valdosta, Ga.

"These students also learn the value of community service, service to their nation and respect for others," she added. "While involved with AFJROTC, they develop self-discipline and learn about being both a leader and a follower, and how to apply those characteristics.

First-year cadets in the program learn about Air Force history and customs and courtesies. During their second year, they learn about Airmen who have impacted the Air Force as well as public speaking. Third-year cadets learn skills such as interviewing, applying for a job and developing a monthly budget. During their last year, cadets learn and apply leadership and management skills both in the classroom and during extracurricular activities when they are put in positions where they can apply those skills.

"Our curriculum provides students with instruments that can help them succeed, whether they decide to join the military or not," said retired Master Sgt. Bruce Minnick, aerospace science instructor for the GA-081 unit. "If they do join the Air Force or another branch of service, they're prepared and can apply what they have learned."

Students enroll in the program for a variety of reasons, including the various extracurricular activities that are offered. Teams available include the drill and rifle teams, as well as Color Guard and Kitty Hawk, the academical honor society. The teams compete against other AFJROTC units throughout the states of Georgia and Florida.

One cadet joined for both the extracurricular activities and for self-improvement.

"I joined because I need to improve my discipline, develop more respect for others and learn to follow orders," said Cadet Airman Basic Rachael Bedsole, a freshman in the GA-081 unit who would like to become a photographer in the Air Force. "Over the next four years, I would like to take advantage of the extra activities offered. Along with being a part of the Color Guard, I plan to participate on the saber and rifle teams."

AFJROTC units are also responsible for representing the Air Force positively at schools and in the community.

"Our unit serves as a way to demonstrate patriotism within the school," said Major Olsen. "Along with raising the school's flag each morning, we present it before each football game, during flag ceremonies and at board of education meetings. We also maintain a good relationship with Moody and local veteran organizations and they in turn support us."

Sergeant Minnick has observed the positive impact AFJROTC has on those who dedicate their time to it.

"The change in those who stay in the unit for an extended period of time is tremendous and says a lot about the impact this program can have," said Sergeant Minnick. "We see students grow up and find their niche over the years that they are part of JROTC. Many individuals transition from being an immature, timid person to a more mature and confident individual who is capable of running a unit."

The cadet corps' highest-ranking student says he has learned a lot during his time in AFJROTC.

"I'm at the beginning of my fourth year here and I've definitely learned many things," said Cadet Lt. Col. Adam Uelman, GA-081 group commander. "Although my position is challenging, it has helped me work toward becoming an overall better person. I've learned what it takes to be a leader and how to be responsible, which will help me if I decide to pursue an Air Force career as a pilot through AFROTC in college.

"With my position comes a lot of responsibility, but it's worth it because I get to use what I have learned over the years to help train and teach newer cadets in the program, as well as help make decisions regarding the unit."

Like most units in the operational Air Force, AFJROTC focuses on creating a sense of camaraderie.

"Our cadets form a family environment, which they all benefit from," said Sergeant Minnick. "They see each other mature and develop over the years. In high school, some students might slip by without every getting involved in anything, but AFJROTC provides a place where students can be involved in something every day."

Students who are interested in joining the AFJROTC program in their high school should contact their respective representative to find out additional information.