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Junior ROTC Cadets Meet DoD Chief

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WOODBRIDGE, Va., June 2, 1999 – The Viking JROTC Battalion of Woodbridge Senior High School here had a chance to strut its stuff June 1 for a most unusual guest: the Pentagon's top civilian leader.

Defense Secretary William S. Cohen visited the Army Junior ROTC battalion to pay tribute to the youth program, which teaches citizenship, leadership, teamwork, self-esteem and self- discipline. He ceremoniously "trooped the line" formed by the 210 massed cadets, escorted by retired Army Lt. Col. Franklyn Matthews, the school's senior Army instructor.

The women's drill team members then took center stage, their dark green Army uniforms accented by vibrant yellow berets and white gloves with yellow palms. The teen-agers stomped, slapped and clapped through a military drill routine that blended cheerleading, a sprinkle of rap and a dash of jazz.

Next, the men's drill team filed in chanting, "Standin' tall and lookin' good, Oughta be in Hollywood." After meticulously performing silent, precision drills while twirling M-1 Garand rifles, the young men filed out again singing "The Army Song."

"This is one of the finest programs I've seen," Cohen remarked from the podium, drawing a smattering of "Hoo-ahs!" and rousing applause from the students, faculty and guests in the bleachers. The Viking cadets, he said, reflected discipline, self-worth, pride, responsibility, accountability and a commitment to country.

"When you look at all of the troubles that teen-agers have throughout our society and all of the temptations they are facing, and you see young people like we have today, it reaffirms the hope and the optimism that we have for our future and for this generation," he said later.

Whether or not they choose a military career, Cohen said, JROTC cadets will help America remain the great country it is today. "That's the reason you spend so many hours preparing yourselves for the future, because you're concerned about something called honor, truth, and life, liberty, democracy and freedom," he told the cadets. "That's what we're fighting for today and we'll continue to fight for in the future."

The secretary explained that the ongoing conflict in Kosovo is an example of the U.S. commitment to those principles. The United States and NATO are committed to continuing the fight until Kosovo's refugees return home, autonomy is restored, Serb forces withdraw and an international peacekeeping force with NATO at its core goes in, he said.

"That is the pledge the United States and our NATO allies have made and we intend to keep that," Cohen said.

He told the JROTC cadets that U.S. service members are held in great esteem wherever they are deployed. "The reason for that is we have the best people. We put people at the very top of the pyramid of our concerns and our interests and values," he said.

American troops are forward deployed on the front lines in Korea, in the Gulf, in the Asia-Pacific region, in Europe, as well as in Bosnia and Albania, Cohen said. Their pride, bearing, discipline and professionalism reflect upon their country. "People say, 'There is a military whose side I want to be on.' Potential enemies make a similar judgment. They say, 'There is a military and there is a country that I don't want to contest.'"

Military members serve as diplomats, carrying forth "our flag, our values, our virtues and our commitment to promote freedom and democracy wherever we can," Cohen said. "That's the reason why the United States is the No. 1 superpower. Yes, we have technology. And yes, we have prosperity. But that is only made possible by the fact that we have the finest military in the world."

More than 400,000 students participate in JROTC programs sponsored by the armed services at 2,600 U.S. high schools, according to Pentagon officials. The services pay about 65 percent of the cost for the programs, providing uniforms, course materials and a portion of the instructors' salaries. The curriculum includes classroom instruction and one or two weeks of summer training at a military base.

Retired Army Sgt. Maj. Joe Neely, one of Woodbridge's JROTC instructors and a 26-year veteran logistics specialist, said he was attracted to training young people while he was post sergeant major at the Army's Cameron Station in Alexandria, Va. "We had an adopt-a-school program which really got me interested," he explained.

That interest led to a job with the JROTC program getting underway at Woodbridge in 1993, Neely said. "Our mission is to motivate young people to become better citizens," he said. "Our program gives them skills and development that will help them in any walk of life, whether they're going to college or pursuing a career."

The JROTC program benefits Woodbridge Senior High as well as its students, according to assistant principal Benita Stephens. "They serve our school in any way that we ask," she said. "They serve as ushers for special programs. They always present the colors. Their drill teams represent our school."

JROTC is so popular among Woodbridge's students that the school has had to cap the program at 250 because of space limitations, Stephens noted. In the past, she said, "we've had to turn kids down."

From Stephens' perspective, JROTC, with its special events and summer camps, gives high school students discipline and a chance for recognition. "They enjoy the awards and the ranks," she said. "It makes them feel very important. It is the one place where we can recognize a lot of students at one time."

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