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Learning life lessons in service, leadership

Citizen Staff Writer



On a basketball court outside Catalina High School, a few dozen students are transformed into the disciplined color guard and drill teams of Arizona’s 943rd JROTC Unit.

The members of Catalina’s Air Force Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps are practicing to defend their 2008 state championship at this year’s state drill meet April 18 at Alhambra High School in Phoenix.

But JROTC does more than turn teens into performers in uniform.

In Pima County, hundreds of young people have done better in school, developed confidence and leadership skills and volunteered in the community since the first unit was established at Flowing Wells High School 30 years ago.

JROTC probably kept Catalina senior Luis Chavez from following his older brother into jail.

Chavez, 17, admits that he “was a little thug” in middle school.

His mom, Maria Araujo, talked to her younger sons about joining JROTC after a teacher at Catalina who knew her boys suggested it.

Chavez joined when he was a freshman and is now corps commander, the highest ranking cadet, and a member of the 10-man Armed Drill Team.

Chavez’s two younger brothers, Ricardo, 15, and Francisco, 16, are also in JROTC.

“My mom saw the change it made in me,” Chavez said. “It made the same change in them.”

Says Araujo, 35: “They were taught respect.”

There are more than 700 students in JROTC units at five high schools in Pima County: Catalina and Cholla in Tucson Unified School District, Flowing Wells in the Flowing Wells district; Sahuarita in the Sahuarita district; and Desert View in the Sunnyside district.

The units at Catalina and Desert View are affiliated with the Air Force. Flowing Wells’ and Cholla’s are Army units. Sahuarita has a Naval JROTC.

Students take certain classes to complete the four-year JROTC curriculum. They get elective credit for JROTC classes.

JROTC is “strenuous academically,” said retired Master Sgt. Mark Wagner, instructor for the Catalina JROTC.

Students are pushed to have assignments in on time and academics are stressed.

Retired Maj. Robert De Witt, JROTC instructor at Flowing Wells, said that the discipline and respect that students learn in JROTC carry over to other aspects of school. Students respect their teachers, focus better and have fewer discipline problems.

They also have several opportunities for extra credit and have fewer bad grades than the general students population, De Witt said.

Students with F’s cannot take part in extracurricular JROTC activities, said Catalina senior Linette Reyes, 17, who has been in JROTC since her freshman year.

JROTC members also get valuable lessons outside the classroom.

“The cadets are in charge of everything that is done outside of academic instruction,” Wagner said. “They are given the opportunities to lead.”

Reyes, who wants to be a pilot in the military, said she’s benefited from that experience. She moved up the chain of command to corps commander first semester and was succeeded by Chavez second semester.

“It builds character to lead,” Reyes said. “You learn how to deal with people. You learn to grow up.”

JROTC also emphasizes community service. Cadets at Catalina have done food drives, neighborhood cleanups and volunteered with the Senior Olympics.

Students from Desert View help set up for the annual Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in Tucson and direct parking for the race at El Con Mall. The Sahuarita JROTC cadets also perform community service.

“We want to make sure we are integrated with the community and make them proud of us,” said Joseph C. Battle, senior naval science instructor in Sahuarita’s JROTC.

Students who join JROTC are not obligated to join the military.

According to Catalina’s Wagner, only about 25 percent of his cadets move on to a military career.

At Flowing Wells, more than 65 percent of students in the program for three years go on to join the military, De Witt said.

Participating in JROTC can help students obtain nominations to national military academies such as West Point.

Joshua Linsell, 19, graduated from Catalina last year and is a freshman at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado.

“I really enjoyed the challenge,” Linsell said of his time in JROTC.

Linsell was 5 feet tall and weighed 100 pounds in high school. “I remember being so little, but always getting praise from people about how I could spin a rifle better than any other guy out there.”

Now 5 feet 6 inches and 130 pounds, Linsell says that being in JROTC taught him precision, timeliness, hard work and “valuable leadership qualities.”

“Any of my team members, I guarantee, will go far in life because of the things they learned as a member of the Catalina 10-man Armed Drill Team.”

JROTC programs in Tucson

Type of Number of High school Program Year Started Cadets 2009

Catalina Air Force 1994 81

Desert View Air Force 1994 206

Sahuarita Naval 2002 86

Flowing Wells Army 1979 225

Cholla Army 2005 130

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