A few months ago I was on a road trip with my father. We were travelling through the night and decided that we needed some gas and a midnight snack (him, a coffee to stay awake, me, whatever food was available). We pulled into a gas station that was attached to a McDonalds, my dad started pumping gas, and I, bleary-eye, made my way toward the heavy scent of Mickey-D’s. After I placed my order, the fast-food restaurant had a sudden influx of customers, and mind you, this McDonalds isn’t your regular run-of-the-mill double arches. It's connected to a gas station, so think small, and then think a little smaller. There are people shoved in, and then some more, like the world was ending and people just needed one last Quarter Pounder for the trip. A— wait, let me stop. You’re confused, right? You read the title and think, oh this could be interesting. Protectors, it reads, drawing you into the page of words. Then the author goes on and on about a McDonalds on a road trip. What is that about? Well, bear with me, I’m getting to my point.
As I look around, I notice that some high
school kids have come in. They’re dressed nice, really nice, prom nice, but it
isn’t prom season so that’s odd. Military Ball, I think. It has to be. And
there’s this one guy in this military, well JROTC, formal outfit, who shrugs
off his jacket and steps behind the counter. The crowd kind of glances at each
other. What is this kid doing?
He starts taking orders.
He works here.
On his night off to have fun with friends and his date (in a beautiful blue princess style dress, very Cinderella), he stops to help his co-workers. No one had to ask, he did it simply because he saw the need and decided to help.
Okay, you’re thinking now, so there’s this nice kid. Cool. What does that have to do with anything? Everything.
“To Motivate Young People to be Better
Citizens,” reads the mission statement of the Junior Reserves Officer
Training Corps, colloquially referred to as JROTC.
Continually through my high school life, I’ve seen the way JROTC members interact with others. They are some of the nicest, most polite (I’m talking yes ma’ams and no sirs to kids their own age), individuals you will ever meet. They serve eagerly and without complaint, and their passion for their activities is contagious. I’m generalizing, but I’m also genuine.
So I tell you that story to give you a snippet of the kind of traits I’ve seen in JROTC members, and now I’m going to tell you about two I had the pleasure of interviewing: Matthew Redwine and Michael Vescio are seniors at Statesboro High School (SHS) who are greatly involved in the SHS JROTC program.
Matthew Redwine has known the military way of life since birth because his dad served in the armed forces and is now one of Matthew’s JROTC instructors at SHS. Redwine says, “when I first started, I wanted nothing to do with it. Just because of my dad...I thought that I would be looked down upon or looked up at because my dad was an instructor, but as I got into the teams and stuff, everyone treated me really well...Everybody in there supported me, so I kept on, and that just really helped me get into it.”
Now a Colonel, Matthew Redwine is the highest ranking member of the SHS JROTC and holds four national medals, has broken the school record for merit points, has been on a state-winning color guard, and has held the school record for standing and prone positions for Rifle.
Cadet Lieutenant Colonel Michael Vescio “first learned about JROTC through the 9th grade orientation” and “was really intrigued by the high adventure, athletic teams that they had, like Raiders.” He says, “I was also drawn to the civil discipline aspect of JROTC and I wanted to try it out...and I just stuck with it.”
Vescio has certainly done more than “just sticking with it”. Since his freshman year, he has been awarded a congressional appointment to a United States service academy of his choice, has broken several records including, but not limited to, the record for the fastest mile time within JROTC (which he says he is “pretty proud of”), and holds four national awards (the Silver Cadet Challenge Award, the Sojourner’s Patriotism Award, the American Legion Award for Scholastic Excellence, and Superior Cadet Awards).
The SHS JROTC Program has certainly thrived with Redwine and Vescio about its ranks. Recently, the program was honored to have a two-star general come to speak, and last year the program went through an accreditation. Redwine says that “we've [SHS JROTC] never earned a truly perfect score [for the accreditation], and no other school in the area has gotten a truly perfect score, but we are the closest one in, I think it was six years, to get[ing] a perfect score. We got a 99.7. And that was three years of work.”
During their four years in JROTC, Redwine and Vescio have accomplished much, but they agree that everything they have achieved would be for naught if their fellow JROTC members were not by their sides through it all. Redwine says, “whenever you have a lot of people, like-minds, together...there’s bound to be a lot of great friendships,” and Vescio adds that “they treat you like a family when you're in JROTC.” Toward the end our interview and the class period, Redwine and Vescio showed me the main JROTC classroom, and as soon as I walked in the familial aspect was palpable — cadets were laughing with each other and some were even prepping to have a dance-off with one of the instructors (a regular occurrence, it seemed).
JROTC achieves the idea of “motivat[ing] young people to be better citizens” through extracurricular activities like Raiders team, Drill team, and JLab (the JROTC Leadership and Academic Bowl), class during school (in which Redwine says the cadets learn about a variety of subjects including “leadership, civics...a little bit of world history, geography...the biggest one is personal finance, and nutrition,” not to mention physical training). Although what makes JROTC special is not the impressive Drill team or the classroom dance parties, yet it is that the program puts a high emphasis on community involvement. In this program, the cadets write Christmas cards to veterans, volunteer their time at soup kitchens, and donate their old clothing and uniforms to those in need.
No one had to ask, they did it simply because they saw a need and decided to help.
In their futures, Redwine and Vescio both plan to serve their community and country. Colonel Matthew Redwine will soon become Airman First Class Redwine of the United States Air Force, and Cadet Lieutenant Colonel Michael Vescio will soon be a West Point Cadet.
Matthew Redwine and Michael Vescio, two of our many protectors of tomorrow, today.
I think we’ll be in good hands.