Friday, December 9, 2005

SNOW HILL, Md. (AP) — More students at Eastern Shore high schools are joining the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, part of a national rise in popularity that has some high schools reporting up to a fourth are enrolled in the program.

JROTC programs numbered 3,184 last year nationwide, up from 1,493 in 1990. Last year, more than 500,000 students in the United States were JROTC cadets.

At Snow Hill High School one recent Friday, several students wearing jeans and sweat shirts filed into an empty classroom. When retired Marine Lt. Col. Ron Harrington called attendance, they stood and snapped to attention.

“Brown,” he said, calling out the names of the school’s Marine JROTC cadets. “Anybody have any information about Brown?”

Over the next few minutes, Col. Harrington briefed the members on their participation in the recent holiday parade in Berlin, Md., (they won a first-place trophy) to how they should dress for an upcoming football game.

“Are we in dress blues, sir?” a cadet asks.

Col. Harrington called the JROTC program a positive experience for the students, who are not required to join the military as adults.

“What I like to say is that we don’t teach the Marine Corps, we teach Marine Corps values,” he told the Salisbury Daily Times.

On the Eastern Shore, schools from Wicomico High School to Crisfield High School all have programs in place with solid followings.

Capt. Warren Harris, an instructor for Crisfield’s Army JROTC program, said about 70 students usually sign up for classes each year.

“Last year we had about 78 students enrolled, and being a small school, that makes about 20 [percent] to 25 percent of the school’s population,” he said.

Students have varied reasons for joining.

“Some are interested in military careers and want to see what it’s like; some do it on their parents’ request, and somejust do it for the credit,” said Cmdr. Chris Demming, who has headed Stephen Decatur High School’s Navy JROTC program since its inception 11 years ago.

Cadet Sgt. Aaron Jones of Snow Hill High’s program said curiosity brought him to JROTC.

“All my friends were interested in it from middle school, and I wanted to see what it was about,” said the 16-year-old junior.

At Snow Hill, Col. Harrington weaves history and leadership lessons with older cadets as the class breaks down the Civil War film “Glory,” while upperclassmen take supervisory roles by teaching new cadets skills such as parade drills.

At the very least, Cmdr. Demming thinks cadets will be able to use some of those team-building skills later in their lives.

“They’re going to be useable anywhere they go, whether it be college or in the workplace,” he said.

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