Morristown embraces JROTC program

The combined East and West High School Air Force JROTC Color Guard present the colors at Burke-Toney Stadium.

The combined East and West High School Air Force JROTC is starting its third year and Senior Master Sgt. Joshua King said that Morristown has wrapped its arms around the program.

“The community has really embraced us,” King said.

King came straight out of active duty to start teaching JROTC for the two schools, along with senior instructor Mayor Jim Thigpen.

In those two years, they’ve had high student involvement, as well as a high level of community support.

Last year, the program recorded more than 180 students enrolled in the program.

Buddy Smith, assistant director at Hamblen County schools, said he’s not surprised.

“I think they’re doing a great job,” he said. “They’ve come a long ways in a short period of time.”

He said the biggest component is how they are interacting with the high schoolers.

“They’re connecting with these kids,” he said.

King said when he first came on, he was confident that he knew the material to teach.

His real question was not about the material, but about who he was going to teach it to.

“My challenge was how was I going to hand several dozen teenagers?” he said. “And they are great.”

King said one thing they stress is it is not a recruiting platform for the armed services. It is a leadership course.

The JROTC program offers kids several different extracurricular activities to participate in.

The most prestigious activity for the cadets is the Color Guard. King said it has grown by leaps and bounds and at this point they can conduct an 11-person Color Guard if needed including the American flag, state flag and a POW/MIA flag.

The program also has a saber team, but they are used sparingly in order to make sure it is recognized as a distinguished honor. He said the saber team will be used tonight at the East High School game to honor the Homecoming Court as they come on the football field.

They’ve also been used for community events such as Tim Tebow’s “Night to Shine” last year.

“Community is key for the program,” King said.

Last year, the program recorded 2,500 community service hours or 14.5 hours per student.

The JROTC program helps the community by helping with food drives, parades, participating in Race Across America along with the Civil Air Patrol and providing the Color Guard for community events.

Another event the JROTC plans to participate in this year is the Joint Leadership Academic Board. King describes it as a cross between Jeopardy and the ACT. He said they are confident that they have some “brainiacs” who can push the new group through the rounds.

“We have the potential to go to nationals,” King said.

Each year, the program has also had one cadet accepted into one of the military academies.

“That’s a trend we want to continue,” he said.

Past field trips have also included going to McGhee Tyson Airport and touring KC-135’s and also taking flights on Cessna airplanes in Greeneville with a Vietnam veteran.

Smith said the program has definitely been a benefit for the school system.

“They’re making a difference in both schools,” he said.