Push-ups, side straddle hops, grunts and shouts of “yes sir” can be seen and heard on Thursdays in the west wing of Putnam City West High School as U.S. Army Junior ROTC cadets carry out their weekly exercise regimen.
The school's inaugural class of about 70 cadets undergoes rigorous physical training as part of a schedule that includes classroom instruction, drill practice and dress uniform inspections. Cadets wear their uniforms on Wednesdays.
The ROTC curriculum was introduced at Putnam City West in the fall with about 150 students signing up. This semester, about 70 students, including eight girls, remain in the program.
Putnam City schools spokesman Steve Lindley said Junior ROTC was launched at the instigation of Superintendent Paul Hurst. It has been so well received that school officials are considering a U.S. Air Force Junior ROTC in the fall at Putnam City High School.
Principal Buster Meeks said the emphasis on discipline and structure provides a good foundation for those enrolled in the program.
“We want to help these students attain skills for after high school, and give them a leg up on succeeding,” Meeks said. “A lot of kids have really embraced what ROTC is. It's not for every student, but for some, this is meeting their needs.”
Retired Lt. Col. John McKinney is the senior Army instructor for the program. He said the goal is not to influence students to join the military after high school, but to help them become better citizens. Attendance, academics and behavior are emphasized, he said.
Students are under no military obligation after completing the program. Some will go on to enroll in college ROTC.
On March 1, the program became an official Army Junior ROTC, with the U.S. Army sharing costs of the program with the school system, McKinney said.
An area at the west end of the high school was renovated to house the program. The space includes classrooms, offices, a cadet staff room, a supply room and a firing range for pellet rifles.
McKinney, who came to the assignment after serving as an ROTC instructor at the University of Iowa and at Stephen F. Austin State University in Texas, had a 33-year active-duty career with the Army, including an assignment as coordinator of military support in Oklahoma City after the 1995 Murrah Building bombing.
The goal, he said, is to develop citizenship, character and leadership among high school students.
“This is a place where they can come and feel safe,” McKinney said. “Here, they can be somebody. Discipline will get better each year.”
“This is an excellent program,” said ninth-grader Dale Robert Heggen, who was physical training leader for his class of about 10 students on a recent Thursday.
“I plan to continue until I graduate.”
McKinney said students have ROTC one class period a day, and spend the rest of the school day in their other course studies and activities. He hopes to add another instructor for the fall semester, which will allow for an enrollment of up to 150 students.
Sense of purpose
Kayla Bishop, a counselor at Putnam City West, is helping steer students to the program.
“The benefits are endless,” she said. “When they walk the halls with their uniforms on, they have a sense of purpose.”
McKinney said he already is seeing changes in the students who came into the program in the fall.
“Our job is to mentor the cadets and teach them leadership skills,” he said. “We help them learn to plan, and learn to be on time.”
McKinney said he insists on students maintaining a C average in all their coursework. Any student who is falling short is required to adhere to a “Poor Academic Performance Battle Drill,” a step-by-step plan to bring up the poor grade.
“A lot of good things happen for students who take part,” Hurst said. “They learn and practice values like service, leadership, responsibility and good citizenship. They experience pride and accomplishment. They get more positive role models added to their lives.”
U.S. Army Junior ROTC Cadet Creed
I am an Army Junior ROTC Cadet.
I will always conduct myself to bring credit to my family, country, school and the Corps of Cadets.
I am loyal and patriotic.
I am the future of the United States of America.
I do not lie, cheat or steal and will always be accountable for my actions and deeds.
I will always practice good citizenship and patriotism.
I will work hard to improve my mind and strengthen my body.
I will seek the mantle of leadership and stand prepared to uphold the Constitution and the American way of life.
May God grant me the strength to always live by this creed.
For more information about U.S. Army Junior ROTC program, go to www.