MIDWEST CITY — Three Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps members sat together at Midwest City High School and reminisced about community service activities, banquets, staff promotions they've seen each other earn and their first impressions of one another.
Were it not for the JROTC program they would not be such great friends, they said, nor would they be the people they are today.
“I wanted to join because my big brother joined. Before I was in the corps, I was one of those unruly kids. I've learned a lot about taking responsibility and staying focused. My parents love it,” said Brett Miller, 16, a junior and vice corps commander. He said his mother is determined to have his younger brothers join when they enter high school.
JROTC is an elective course for grades 9-12. Because of the city's proximity to Tinker Air Force Base and the influence the base has on the city, the program is structured around the Air Force.
Students receive physical training and take aerospace courses. Cultural studies courses teach about countries where military personnel are likely to be stationed.
Retired Oklahoma Air National Guardsman and retired Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Tim Egan, one of the aerospace science instructors, said JROTC is not designed to recruit students into the military.
“It's our job to make them better citizens. If they want to go into the military, we will certainly help them do that, but it's not our job to encourage them one way or the other,” Egan said.
He said students are taught to value the American flag and recite the honor code every day before class starts.
“We will not lie, cheat or steal,” the students recite in unison.
Once a week they dress in their uniforms — crisp blue slacks and jackets, polished black shoes, ties for the boys and collar tabs for the girls. Students are graded on how well they are dressed.
“Of all the classes I've taken in high school, I've learned the most here,” said Serena Lounge, 18, a senior and commander of the corps.
Lounge said she has learned the value of having direction and focus from Egan and senior aerospace science instructor Mike Henning, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel.
“When we find out that a student is failing any of their classes, we call them into our office and talk to them about it. We ask them why they are getting these poor grades. We explain to them that if they don't graduate from high school they can't get into college. It's simple stuff, but in reality a lot of these kids don't have someone to tell it to them, so we do,” Penning said.
“Sometimes all these students need is someone to say, ‘You can do this'. Just someone to give them motivation, and it can make a big difference. You hope that you can have some small impact on their life,” Penning said.
Lounge said she hopes to join the National Guard to help pay her way through college. She wants to become a psychologist.
“I want to help people who suffer from mental health issues. I don't think enough attention is given to people who suffer from those issues,” she said.
Lounge said before visiting with representatives of the JROTC her freshman year, she didn't know what it was.
“I saw a booth with a bunch of people in uniforms and thought it would be neat just to try it out. Now I'm so glad that I did because the corps is like a family.”
Desiree Nemecek, 16, said her parents met in a high school JROTC class.
“My parents always talk about their experience in JROTC, and my mom really wanted me to join, but I wasn't sure if it was for me,” Nemecek said.
She joined this year as a junior and serves as public relations officer.
Last year, the corps initiated a clothing drive that teachers, students, community leaders and churches participated in.
“One church gave us roughly 1,000 clothing items. Alone, the corps donated 1,700 clothing items,” Miller said.
The clothing was donated to Goodwill.
Nemecek said she wants to see JROTC programs get the recognition they deserve.
“Every day we see football players and cheerleaders getting in the papers, and we believe that there are future cadets in this corps that want to fight for this country and should be noticed,” she said.