The girls of NJROTC


Owen McAdams

Pictured from left: Cadets Herrell, McBride, Fitzgerald, and Smith

Owen McAdams, Staff Writer

Back in 2011, a dire situation fell upon Stephen Decatur High School’s Navy Junior Reserves Officers Training Corps (NJROTC) program. After failing to reach the Navy’s required 100 members for a school with 1000 students for five years in a row, Decatur was incredibly close to losing the NJROTC program completely.

The U.S. Navy had included Decatur in a list of 19 high schools across the United States that were to have their NJROTC programs discontinued.

The program had 94 cadets in 2011, just six short of the Navy’s minimum requirements. Despite this, the program was in jeopardy of being terminated by the Navy because the program saw three years in a row where the NJROTC program was below 100 members.

However, the local community fought back. Decatur ‘s principal at the time, now-superintendent Louis Taylor. and U.S. Senators Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin worked with the community to make their case to the Navy why they felt the program was a vital part of Decatur, and thus the community.

A big reason for the public outcry was people seeing how the program changed the lives of those in it, and how cadets matured into young responsible adults ready to give back to the community.

This is extremely prevalent in the case of Cadet Seaman Apprentice Gracelynn Herrell, who has seen tremendous strides in improvement as a person throughout her short tenure in the program.

“I have definitely changed while in the program. When I first started out I was super nervous and standoffish since it’s not like anything I’ve done before, but I’ve really had a boost of confidence. It feels like you’re fitting in, especially if we are working together,” Herrell said.

Herrell, who previously believed the program was strictly a military class, was blown away by what the program entails.

“It’s not what other people might make it out to be. It is mostly a leadership class that teaches confidence in what you’re doing. Sure, military things are part of the class, but it’s mostly about teaching kids to step up, navigate situations, cooperation, and leading one another,” said Herrell.

Cadet Chief Petty Officer Hailey Smith joined the program to get her in shape for a future in law enforcement, but the program influenced her to start working towards a future in the military.

“I’ve always liked military stuff but until I joined NJROTC I didn’t know how much I actually liked it. Color guards are my favorite, but I also really like orienteering and PT events, where we meet to compete in anything ranging from the 1 mile run, pull ups, sit ups, tug-of-war, and other fun things to compete with each other to see which unit is the most physically fit,” Smith said.

One thing that was emphasized by Herrell was the sense of community that is felt throughout the program.

“It feels like you are apart of something. Everyone cheers each other on,” she said.

Herrell was also surprised by the sheer number of events that the NJROTC is involved in.

“There’s always something to do. We do service events, help out the sports teams, orienteering events, parade marches, inspections, and many more. There are lots of fun events,” Herrell said.

Some of these events, such as the parade marches and inspections teach cadets how to properly dress and show off their knowledge regarding the program. Inspections specifically make sure that individual members of the unit are properly dressed and caught up on their knowledge, which teaches cadets to be diligent and have an eye for detail.

“You get taught many skills. The program forces you to get into shape since it is very physical. We learn about endurance, paying attention to detail, and how to toughen up and learn from mistakes. At our first parade this year we had a mistake. It’s an opportunity to learn from,” said Herrell.

Smith has also seen many improvements throughout her 2 years enrolled in the program.

“I’ve lost weight, become stronger and more athletic. I’m also a lot more outgoing and confident than I otherwise was,” said Smith.

Being an officer, Smith is made to command units in events such as color guards and marching drills, where her leadership skills are tested and improved upon.

For the girls in NJROTC, the program has brought tremendous benefits into their lives, helping them improve to become the best versions of themselves, whether that be through learning new skills, knowledge of the program and their units, or disciplining themselves. This new knowledge of information and skills learned will stick with them for the rest of their lives, and be used to help them in becoming productive members of their community.