March 19, 2015 at 9:56 a.m.
The North Branch high school this spring activated one of the select few new Junior Air Force ROTC Chapters to be established by Congress in 2014, due to federal budget sequestration mandates.
The school’s first Junior ROTC class has 20 students enrolled this spring. Next year’s enrollment is projected to include over 70 students.
North Branch High School Principal Coleman McDonough said he plans for this to be, “a very visible program” out in the community doing volunteering, providing color guard services among other public activities.
McDonough said the high school administration doggedly pursued JAROTC availability having decided two years ago NBHS would try to qualify. He knew North Branch faced stiff competition to land ROTC here, and he thanks the community for its support, explaining how numerous boosters attended a site visit demonstrating local support to Air Force visiting program coordinators.
Master Sgt. Chris Edington is co-leader of the North Branch program. He said he and Colonel Steve Kornitzer have 51 years of military experience between them to help in guiding the high school students. They both commented on how well townspeople and those in school have made them feel welcome.
Student Adrian Johnson said he was eager to enroll with the group, and that he had already participated in police Explorers here, and always wanted to attend West Point Academy as well.
The North Branch group is “a cadet run” program, explained Edington. He said the goal is to get cadets to mentor each other, adding “I think this will be a memorable program for them.”
Kornitzer said if a student is considering ROTC they should certainly look into it, “anybody can join” and he stressed this is not a recruitment effort. Only about four percent of student-cadets actually enlist in the military. He said the goal is to develop citizens of character dedicated to serving their community and their nation.
He pointed out that of 800 or so ROTC programs in the U.S. a survey of school principals showed that attendance and graduation rates are improved through ROTC participation.
He and the master sergeant serve as role models and mentors and provide students with a “sense of belonging” while also educating them in aviation, aero-space, fitness and survival, life skills and self-discipline, while providing volunteer opportunities.
There are just four Junior Air Force ROTC programs available in Minnesota schools.