Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Developing Tomorrow's Leaders Today

JROTC Helps Viper Students 
Grow Wings and Develop into Leaders

To build leaders. 

That is exactly what Space Coast Jr./Sr. High School's Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (AFJROTC) is focused on doing for more than 100 students each year. Leadership development is at the heart of the program's mission statement: To develop citizens of character, dedicated to serving their nation and community. 

"It is a cadet-run Corps," said Colonel Richard Kniseley. "Master Sergeant Hope Sanders and I give them some guidance, but the cadets run it."

Each class period is considered a Flight consisting of 15-25 cadets. According to class period, flights are identified by a name such as Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, and Delta. "They will have an identity with that name," said Colonel Kniseley. "That's their family. They work together. They struggle together. They succeed together."

A head student called a Flight Commander is in charge of each Flight. The second in command is a Flight Sergeant, followed by Element Leaders, and on down the chain of command. These young leaders share the responsibility for the development and success of each cadet in their Flight. "They run everything," said Colonel Kniseley. "Developing their leadership skills is the whole key to the program."

"Leadership development starts Day One," agreed Master Sergeant Sanders. There is a highly focused environment which is dependent on the leadership of more experienced cadets to serve as guides, models, and motivation to help newer cadets gain the skills, expertise, and confidence necessary to develop their own leadership potential. "You are only as strong as your weakest link," said Master Sergeant Sanders.

Senior Cadet Lt. Colonel Stephen Rivera is the Corps Commander in charge of all Flights at Space Coast. This is Stephen's third year. "I love it," he said. "I started out with nothing and made it up to Cadet Lt. Colonel with 19 ribbons. Anything is possible. You just have to have the motivation and drive to get it done."

To become a Corps Commander is one of the greatest achievements a cadet can reach, but there are also a number of other significant leadership positions such as Executive Officer, Honor Guard Commander, Drill Team Commander, Historian, Safety Officer, Rocket Club, Public Affairs, Personnel, Logistics, Webmaster, and others.

To pursue these and other positions, cadets must engage in a tenuous interview process which begins with crafting their resumes, preparing for questions, and interviewing with the Corps Commander, the Deputy Corps Commander, and the Executive Officer. Colonel Kniseley also sits in on interviews for cadets that apply for Corps Commander or Deputy Corps Commander. Along the way, cadets improve their communication skills, strengthen their leadership abilities, and expand career options following graduation. As a result, cadets are empowered with a strong foundation to succeed in various aspects of life after high school, including maximizing college and career opportunities.

A healthy, spirited, and competitive atmosphere which highlights both individual and collaborative performance is a trademark of JROTC, and is one of the many reasons the program is able to produce such exceptional results while simultaneously developing outstanding leaders. "Competition is important because that is the way it is in the real world," said Colonel Kniseley.

"In all the Flights, there is competition,” said Cadet Lt. Colonel Rivera. “There is competition with the uniform inspection, PT, field day, Flight chants, Relay for Life, and Pasta for Pennies. The competition really never ends. I'm very competitive in general. It keeps me on my toes and keeps me sharp so I can help others."

The competitive culture spans within and among Flights. Uniform and grooming inspections are as competitive as physical training (PT), with each cadet vying hard to be the best as an individual while serving their fellow cadets as part of a family-oriented unit. This competition helps crystallize the focus and drive the motivation necessary to continuously improve and hold one another to the highest possible standard of appearance and performance.

“Everything is inspected and graded,” said Master Sergeant Sanders. “Each cadet has an individual grade for themselves and an average grade for their Flights. Their individual grades go into Edline so their parents see that grade immediately. We give that grade every other day."

Learning how to march as a unit is another defining activity in JROTC. “Drill is an amazing way to build teamwork, self-confidence, camaraderie, leadership, and an overall sense of pride,” said Master Sergeant Sanders. “We’re going to get from point A to point B in cadence and rhythm. Returning cadets help new cadets follow instructions and movements. Everyone gets a chance to lead the Flight so they all have to learn it. The first time they do it, they will march them into the fence.”

March into a fence? "It happens to everybody," said Colonel Kniseley. "They don't know it but we’re behind them observing. With experience and practice the cadet leader masters leading a flight and is ready to lead and succeed in more difficult tasks. When they finish, the whole group claps for their leader."

Drill is a way of life for AFJROTC cadets as it helps develop
teamwork and build camaraderie as they march as a unit.

"It is harder than people think. When you are commanding a drill, you are standing in front of them," said Kitty Hawk Commander Joshua Taylor, a sophomore. "Your left is their right, so everything is opposite." 

"The thing about marching is you follow every command given by your commander,” said Cadet Lt. Colonel Rivera. “If your commander does not give you a command in time, you have to keep marching, even if it is into a fence."

"Marching in unison shows we are a unit," said Kitty Hawk Commander Taylor. Sophomore Squadron Commander Brianna Bauerlin agreed: “We move as one.”

The Honor Guard is the competitive drill team guided by Master Sergeant Sanders. While all cadets practice drills on Mondays and Wednesdays during school, Honor Guard engages in additional drills on Tuesdays and Thursdays after school. The Honor Guard competes at drill competitions around the state of Florida. “We've won trophies over the years," said Master Sergeant Sanders. "We placed 1st and 2nd place last year at the state competition Air Force Association (AFA) competition at UCF.”

As evidenced by these and many other trophies lining the walls of the classroom, the Space Coast Jr./Sr. High School AFJROTC program has a long-standing tradition of successful performances in state-wide drill competitions. 

"For Honor Guard, marching is our life,” said Cadet Lt. Colonel Rivera. “We go to competitions. We do community service projects such as the Massing of the Colors and Military Appreciation Day. We are held to a high standard. Our motto is 'The Best of the Best.'" 

"Honor Guard is the elite of the Corps," said Kitty Hawk Commander Taylor. “It’s also the most fun.”

“Honor Guard helped me a lot with self-discipline and work ethic,” said Awareness Presentation Team (APT) Commander Alex Turman, a junior.

Last school year at the Sears Town Mall in Titusville, the AFJROTC cadets performed a special
Color Guard presentation in honor of a Congressional Medal of Honor Award recipient.  

Color Guard is an arm of the Honor Guard, typically represented by a four-person team that presents the colors at various events, including the local football games. “The Color Guard also leads the 'world famous' Port St. John Christmas parade followed by 80 to 100 cadets marching in cadence,” said Colonel Kniseley. “All of the families cheer them on and take pictures of them. It's really great.”

In the JROTC, students quickly find themselves part of a cohesive unit; a group which they soon think of as a family. "I think the program gives them a sense of belonging, and an opportunity to be a part of something greater than themselves," said Master Sergeant Sanders.

"You come in as an individual and you leave as a family," said APT Commander Turman. "When you graduate, you'll know that Corps will always be your family."

"Because we do so many things together, we develop more of a family relationship than a classroom relationships," said Cadet Lt. Colonel Rivera.

"The entire Corps is like a family to me,” said Squadron Commander Bauerlin. “We work together. We collaborate together. We accomplish things together. We get a lot done."

"You really have to work as a team. If you focus on being an individual, you don't get anything done," said Cadet Chief Master Sergeant Ian Moore, a sophomore in charge of Ambassadors in Blue, which is the unit responsible for things like parking duty during home football games, as well participating in fundraisers.

Developing Flight chants is another unique aspect of the program. "They have to develop the chants themselves," said Colonel Kniseley. "Every Flight's chant is different. This is another way they develop their teamwork. They try to come up with a chant that is inspirational. They say it every day and it reflects who they are as a unit."

"I love Flight chants," said Cadet Senior Airman Thomas Sabo, a junior. "You and a Flight get to come up with a song, and it describes how you and your Flight are one. For me, my Flight chant gets me hyped up for class and for anything we do." 

To raise money for Relay for Life, AFJROTC held a fun competition within all Flights to see which Corps leader would get a pie in the face. Master Sergeant Sanders graciously accepted the 'prize' that came with raising the most money of all the participating leaders. "It seems like every year, I win somehow," she said with a smile.
"Really? Really!" 

Citizenship, character development, and community service are all critical components of the JROTC. "We go to all of the elementary schools in the area—Challenger 7, Atlantis, and Enterprise," said APT Commander Turman. "We talk about different topics and how they affect the generation. For example, how bullying or drugs could negatively impact them later in life."

"One time, we were talking about what we learn in ROTC and Mrs. Jobie Woltman, a parent volunteer we consider 'Mom of ROTC' called on a 5th or 6th grade student and asked, 'What are the Air Force core values?' and it was very shocking to hear the young kid's response. He said, 'Integrity first. Service before self. Excellence in all we do.' I was shocked. I was like, 'Wow!' Seeing stuff like that is what I aim for."

Cadet Senior Airman Sabo reflects on a time he helped teach others after building his leadership skills through the Corps. "Last year, Mrs. Christine Neilson asked if we would be willing to teach her class proper flag etiquette in terms of taking it down and folding it. I led a small unit of cadets from the classroom to the flag pole, and we showed the students how to properly take the flag down and fold it to standard. A lot of the students enjoyed the experience, and it helped my flag partner and I develop more confidence doing it in front of a small group of people knowing that two months later we had to do it in front of the whole Corps for the Distinguished Unit Award." 

"We do a lot of community service,” said Cadet Lt. Colonel Rivera. “If you want to do Bright Futures (scholarship program), ROTC is really the best way to go. Ambassadors in Blue gets involved every home football game and also extends out to a number of service projects in the community." Some projects involve collaboration with local JROTC units. "We are planning a joint community service project with Satellite High School called Flagnormous. At the Space Coast versus Satellite football game on October 23rd, their cadets and our cadets will work together to display a football field-sized American flag."

Giving back is paramount to the JROTC way of living. “On Veteran's day at Eastern Florida State College, all of the ROTC programs in the county hold a ceremony to honor all of the veterans—anyone in the Brevard area who has worn a uniform,” said Colonel Kniseley. “The military groups have their group flags and our cadets carry flags for the older veterans.” Moments like these help cadets develop deeper levels of respect for all members of the community.

Space Coast Jr./Sr. High School Principal Robert Spinner joined Colonel Richard Kniseley and last year's Cadet Lt. Colonel Erin Billings to receive a check and service award from J.B. Kump, the Chairman of the Titusville Military Appreciation Committee. The ceremony recognized the JROTC's community service efforts and support of local veterans.

Feeding the less fortunate is another focus of the Corps. “For Thanksgiving, we do a canned food drive for the Brevard Caring and Sharing Center. We use competition between the Flights who bring the most cans. Last year, we collected 7,800 cans of food.”

The Corps places a strong value on recognizing excellence. Cadets earn ribbons for a variety of accomplishments and contributions. For example, ribbons can be offered for good grades, attendance, dress and appearance, and participation in community activities. Each month, Colonel Kniseley and Master Sergeant Sanders also evaluate the activities of all of the cadets in the Corps. In each Flight, they award an Outstanding Cadet of the Month. These honorees get to wear a gold cord on their shoulder.

Despite all the hard work, cadets regularly share laughs, enjoy fun times, and build friendships that will last a lifetime. They also look forward to an annual Military Ball where cadets celebrate all of their accomplishments throughout the year, and just focus on having fun and making memories. "The Military Ball is a place where you go to have a classic dining experience," said Squadron Commander Bauerlin. “Girls wear long dresses and ball gowns and men wear their uniforms. It usually is held at The Tides Club by Patrick Air Force Base. It is a lot of fun." 

"The Military Ball is kind of like a prom, but it is just for JROTC," said Deputy Corps Commander Dylan Suttle, a senior. "There is great food, a ceremony, a guest speaker, and at the end we usually end up dancing and having fun."

The Annual Military Ball gives cadets a chance to celebrate all of their accomplishments throughout the school year and enjoy an unforgettable evening of formal dining, fun dancing, and good times with friends.

With all of the benefits that go along with the program, why may some students still be hesitant to join JROTC? “Fear plays a role but it is more about intimidation," said Cadet Lt. Colonel Rivera. "They hear things about how it is and it's really not that way. If you do the job you're supposed to do, you'll go through the year having fun.”

Educating students about the JROTC can help curb some of the myths and misperceptions others may have about the program.

Maybe some students are worried about keeping up with the physical activities? "A lot of people are scared away by the physical training but it is nothing to be scared of,” said Squadron Commander Bauerlin. “We do a bunch of our own style physical activities that are fun like volleyball, baseball, soccer, flag football, and field days." Cadet Senior Airman Sabo said, "We also help boost each other up. If a cadet is falling behind during PT, we stick with them and help them through it. We don’t leave anyone behind."

Perhaps some students are weary about how the instructors or cadets will treat them? "The instructors may seem stern and serious in the hallways but in the classroom, they can be fun and friendly, and that makes it more fun for us,” said Cadet Lt. Colonel Rivera. Cadet Senior Airman Sabo added, “When you join ROTC, you feel like you are a part of something. We accept you for who you are, and we try to help you raise the bar to help you achieve your full potential."


Or some students could be unaware of what the program can do to help them prepare for life after graduation? “Colleges look for candidates with strong leadership skills,” said Cadet Senior Airman Sabo. "If you want to aim for those higher-level jobs like management jobs, this helps build your resume,” added Cadet Lt. Colonel Rivera.

"ROTC gives us some military-based skills but it is not a requirement to join after graduation," said Squadron Commander Bauerlin. If cadets do decide to join the military, having JROTC experience can result in higher pay and a faster track to becoming an officer.

Experienced cadets know what they put into the program is worth what they get out of it. “So many kids are either too afraid to join or not sure what the program is about, but once you join, you really start to experience all the great things about the program, and suddenly it starts a chain reaction and you start telling all of your friends about it,” said Kitty Hawk Commander Taylor.

“Before joining, I was scared to step and take charge,” said Cadet Senior Airman Sabo. “It taught me how to be a leader.”

APT Commander Turman said, "I remember going from the shy kid that was always in the corner to getting out there and being an outstanding cadet and doing well in school.” 

"By far, this is my favorite class of the day," said Deputy Corps Commander Suttle.

During field days, cadets engage in a wide range of activities
which highlight the importance of teamwork and determination.

For JROTC cadets, pride for country and service for community is as powerful as relationships formed with people who would do anything to support them both as a cadet and as a person. "When I'm wearing the uniform,” said Cadet Lt. Colonel Rivera, “I feel more connected with others around me, and I feel a level of pride I wouldn't have felt if I wasn't in the program. I suggest trying it for a year to see how they like it."

"It helps them focus," said Colonel Kniseley. "It's something they can use in all of their classes. They are developing themselves for whatever they want to do in the future. Go to college. Go to work. Start a family. Join the military. Whatever it is, even if they do JROTC for just one year, they benefit from it."

Through the National Honor Society, cadets earning a 3.0 GPA can also get involved in the Kitty Hawk Air Society, which provides tutoring for young children and offers other service projects focused on giving back to the community. "It has matured me,” said Kitty Hawk Commander Taylor. “When I joined ROTC, I was a kid. After joining, I learned more about how to lead others and control what I do for the sake and betterment of others.”

This motivational display in the JROTC classroom represents cadets past and present that have utilized their leadership skills to serve others. "Enter to Learn, Depart to Lead" reminds cadets why they need to give their best efforts every day.

Seeing graduates go on to experience personal and professional growth long after graduation makes the work that much more rewarding. "We have cadets who have enlisted in the military. Our students have gone on to serve in the Air Force, Army, Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard. They've been in Afghanistan, Iraq, Korea, and other parts of the world. Nic Woltman is flying on an Air Force RC-135, which is an intelligence-gathering aircraft, and he only graduated two years ago. His sister Mikayla is in the program now. Gabriel Chrum is doing maintenance for nuclear weapons. His brother Jonah is in the program now. We're starting to see a lot of brothers and sisters coming through." 

"Every once in a while you get a superstar," said Colonel Kniseley. "Brittany Flanagan is now a first-year Cadet at the Air Force Academy and she just made the softball team. It's been great watching students like Brittany grow over the course of four years."

With more than 70 units in Florida and roughly 900 around the nation, the JROTC program reaches over 100,000 participating cadets in high schools across the nation. Space Coast Jr./Sr. High School's program has consistently ranked among the top-performing units in the nation, earning a prestigious designation as a JROTC Distinguished Unit eight times over the last decade! To achieve this honor each year requires the unit to set goals, monitor progress, make adjustments, and work together to accomplish the goals.

Students must be in grades 9-12 to inquire about joining JROTC. It is offered as an elective course, and fulfills the HOPE requirement for graduation. Interested students are encouraged to speak with any cadet in the Corps. "In reality, they are the ones who do the recruiting," said Master Sergeant Sanders. 

Potential recruits and parents or community members with questions can also make an appointment to speak with Colonel Kniseley ( or Master Sergeant Sanders ( in Building 12 Room 118. They can be reached by phone at 321-638-0750 ext. 4225. Guidance counselors can also answer basic questions about the program.

"We love teaching cadets," Colonel Kniseley. "I love seeing them display leadership, in which they take charge."

Clearly, the program provides a plethora of benefits to the students and their families, the school, the community, and the nation. The mission is being met. In Space Coast Jr./Sr. High School’s JROTC, the leaders of tomorrow are being built today.

To learn more about the nation-wide program, visit AFJROTC.

Stay current with Space Coast Jr./Sr. High at Space Coast Edline.

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