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Athens High School JROTC honor guard members Staff Sgt. Jeremy McMunn, Capt. Sarah Campbell, 2nd Lt. Andrea Standley and 1st Lt. Tamisha Atkins prepare to march on Martin Luther King Day in downtown Athens. The JROTC program at the school has regained vitality, saving it from potential extinction here.
Daily photo by Gary Lloyd
Athens High School JROTC honor guard members Staff Sgt. Jeremy McMunn, Capt. Sarah Campbell, 2nd Lt. Andrea Standley and 1st Lt. Tamisha Atkins prepare to march on Martin Luther King Day in downtown Athens. The JROTC program at the school has regained vitality, saving it from potential extinction here.

Athens High resuscitates JROTC

By Bayne Hughes
hughes@decaturdaily.com 340-2432

Like a couch potato needing exercise, sometimes a dying program needs activity.

The new lead instructor, retired Lt. Col. Sam Scruggs, increased the Athens JROTC's participation in competitions and service and social activities this school year, rescuing the program from near extinction. In just over a semester, the program more than tripled its numbers and now has more than 100 cadets.

The U.S. Army requires a JROTC unit have at least 50 members. If a unit finishes two years in a row with fewer than 50, the school loses the unit to one of many schools wanting to start a program.

Scruggs said Athens finished the 2005-06 school year below the required 50 and started this year with 29 cadets. Cadet command in Huntsville already had drafted the letter to shut down the program.

"They were really just existing," Scruggs said. "Last year, there were very few activities, so the kids lost interest."

The initial boost came from about 60 freshmen, who had taken retired Sgt. 1st Class Robert Bess' leadership class in eighth grade at Athens Middle School.

Scruggs also arranged with the school to waive a $10 fee for changing classes if a student wanted to enroll in JROTC.

Chelsea Pollard is one of the freshmen. She said a counselor talked her into joining JROTC. She loves to take photographs and help run the program, so she took the position of public affairs officer for the battalion.

"We get the military discipline, but it's also helped with my leadership. I think it's been real good for me because I'm more responsible now," Pollard said.

Battalion commander Tamisha Atkins, a four-year member, said the cadets are much busier this year, and other students are taking notice. When the second semester began, Scruggs had lines of students wanting to join.

Getting motivated

"We just weren't doing things that would motivate the students to get involved," Atkins said. "People stopped looking up to the JROTC. It wasn't boring, but we just didn't do things on a weekly basis. We might have an activity every three weeks or once a month."

The group started holding pre-game parties before the home football games. They also held Halloween and Christmas parties. Scruggs scheduled field trips, including trips to Redstone Arsenal and Six Flags Over Georgia.

The competition squads — drill, running team, rifle team and color guard — compete at least twice a month.

Executive officer Bethany King said she likes that Scruggs lets the cadets take more leadership responsibilities. She said the newer cadets are seeing that the older cadets are giving the commands and running the program.

Scruggs said the cadets surprised him with how they reacted to the increased activity and their willingness to assume more leadership responsibilities.

"Sometimes the activity level wears me out, but they can't seem to get enough activity," Scruggs said. "Kids have a lot of energy, and the more they use it as constructive energy and the more engaged they are, the happier they are."

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