JROTC programs help shape thousands of leaders in Escambia, Santa Rosa


It’s hard not to see the US Navy presence in Pensacola. There are many clear days when all we have to do is look up to see the Blue Angels in the sky above our heads. Strong ties and a love for residents of the military bond and are a central part of Pensacola.

So it’s no surprise that junior ROTC programs are prominent in the community.

There are approximately 10 junior ROTC programs encompassing multiple military branches between high schools in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties that range from approximately 70 to over 150 students each year.

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Multiply those graduates by 10, 20, 30 years, and there are now thousands of former junior ROTC students living and working in Pensacola, giving the program outsize influence.

“Our mantra – and I think it’s shared with all the other instructors in the program in the region – our mantra is just to have them have a plan after high school. The idea here is to teach them some of the organizational aspects of life,” said a retiree. U.S. Navy Capt. Michael Fisher, who directs Navarre High School’s Navy JROTC program. “When you graduate from high school and mom and dad’s purse strings are probably cut, you’ll start to feel more independent, but with that independence comes responsibility.”

Preparing students for “once you’re on the other side of the ROTC door”

Local JROTC program instructors told the News Journal that just under 50% of their students eventually enlist in some branch of the military. But even if they don’t enlist, they will graduate from high school with an understanding of military values, thanks to their ROTC programs.

“We don’t tell them too much or overtly to go into the military,” Fisher said.

Students can choose to take a JROTC course as an elective and learn aspects of military history, values, traditions, and drill instructions, as well as how to perform a proper thrust, navigate in the woods with a compass and to properly handle an air rifle.

In many schools, the class counts as a core elective credit the first time a student takes it. Depending on the schools, students receive physical education credit if they take it twice and performing arts credit for the third time.

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Instructors and students attest that JROTC goes beyond the work that takes place in the classroom. For starters, program directors like Fisher try to lessen the future shock of independence their students might feel after graduation. Over the summer, Fisher takes students to colleges and has them talk to students about their own experiences after graduation.

“The idea is to keep them on track, to keep them focused on getting their high school diploma, and to come up with a plan so that they’re not really a burden on society,” he said. he declared. “What we teach is the importance of what you learn once you’re on the other side of the ROTC door.”

Command Master Chief Madeline Grady, 16, top center, talks to her fellow JROTC Sea Cadets after physical training at Pace High School on Friday.

Last week, Navarre High School Navy JROTC took a trip to visit Georgia Tech University, as well as attend Six Flags Over Georgia.

The large group of teenagers and their instructors stopped to eat at a Cracker Barrel. Fisher entered the restaurant first, as students were still exiting the bus, warning a hostess that a group of JROTC children were about to flood the doors.

“The girl says to me, ‘Hi! Oh yes! I’m a Marine Corps ROTC, graduating last year. I love you guys,” Fisher recalled. “I asked her if she was going to come into the service, and she said, ‘No, but that taught me so much. I was like, oh man, she’s the poster child. right there, for the program.”

Competitions challenge students in many different fields

The programs regularly compete in local and regional competitions, and JROTC teams from Santa Rosa and Escambia counties regularly win. Competitions range from marksmanship and athletics to academics and what is known as orienteering – essentially scavenger hunts by students using compasses.

“Each of these different competitive teams gives students the opportunity to get involved,” said the retired U.S. Marine Corps 1st Sgt. John Baker, who leads the Navy JROTC at Pace High School. “Maybe they won’t potentially be the star quarterback or the shortstop or something. But they have an opportunity to come in and compete.”

Pace High Navy JROTC has won the Navy National Drill Championship each of the past two years, and this year, for the fifth consecutive year, was named “Best Program in Area 8,” which includes more than 60 Navy JROTC programs from the Florida Panhandle, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Houston, Texas.

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Sadie Resmondo is a 16-year-old senior at Pace High and the highest-ranking student in the program, called Cadet Commander. Resmondo also plays on several Pace High sports teams, but said the competitive nature of ROTC teams has a different feel to something like volleyball or track.

“I played multiple sports in high school, and one thing that really stands out with ROTC for me is that when you get into ROTC, we’re looking for potential,” she said. “We build on that. In sports, you often have to be awesome. But in ROTC, the goal is to make you awesome along the way.”

Retired U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Rodney Bolling, senior naval science instructor for Pine Forest High School’s Navy JROTC program, said not all competitions focus on drill or marksmanship.

Cadet Commander Sadie Resmondo, 16, points out some of the Navy's JROTC trophies on display at Pace High School on Friday.

“The things we do are not all military-centric,” Bolling said.

On Thursday, the Pine Forest Navy JROTC Academic Team departed Escambia County and headed to Washington, D.C. After competing in two online competitions, the Academic Team – which includes Ian Vasquez, Sarah Rudd, Randall Geoghagan and Malcolm Chaney – earned a spot to compete in the 2022 United States Navy JROTC Academic Bowl Championship.

“We do military things, but we also teach them good skills of self-discipline, being productive, doing the right thing and having integrity,” Bolling said.

“I wanted to be my best self forever”

Another key part of the program is helping students regain their confidence.

“This program helps a lot of students,” Bolling said. “Some students come in shy, reserved, but by the time they become seniors they are outspoken, able to put themselves forward and talk to people and so on.”

Elizabeth Patat, a 15-year-old rising junior at Pace High, said she wasn’t “a very talkative person” when she started high school.

“I would say it took me a long time to become more social, but ROTC definitely helped me. It made me talk to more people,” Patat said.

Trevor Young, front, and his fellow JROTC Sea Cadets practice during physical training at Pace High School Friday.

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As a sophomore, Patat was assigned the duty of caring for and guiding freshmen in her Navy JROTC course, and the assignment forced her to become a better communicator. It’s not that she lost her shyness overnight, but the program has boosted her confidence over time, she said.

Connor Schuster, a rising 16-year-old senior, suffered from generalized anxiety before joining Pace’s program.

“I had a lot of social anxiety, in general and in the program,” he said. “Essentially, at the beginning of my first year, I was placed in the position of platoon commander.

There are six periods of ROTC class during the school day at Pace High, and each period is assigned a platoon commander who acts as the class leader and takes attendance, selects classmates for community service, and gives general updates and announcements.

Schuster forced himself to face his anxiety to become a better platoon leader.

“At the beginning of the year, I had a really hard time talking and like I was always stuck on what to say. I was always freezing up and really struggling,” Schuster said. “But basically I would say halfway through the year I sort of, I would say, ‘triggered’. Like I wanted to be my best self forever.”

Colin Warren-Hicks can be reached at [email protected] or 850-435-8680.


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