Jr. ROTC at Graves HS Available to Area Students
By Paul Schaumburg, Graves County Schools
MAYFIELD, KY - Western Kentucky high school juniors and seniors interested in pursuing the military career now have the option to enroll in the U.S. Army’s Jr. Reserve Officers Training Corps program at Graves County High School. Completing Jr. ROTC carries benefits in both rank and pay grade for students who pursue the military career after high school graduation. Even though the school year began in early August, interested high school juniors and seniors still have the opportunity to register for the few remaining slots available in the program, even if those students transfer to Graves County from other high schools.
“We’re not here to brainwash them to go into the military; we’re here to make better people out of them, better citizens through self-discipline. That’s our mission,” said Lt. Col. Jason Caldwell, who retired from a 25-year career with the U.S. Army to accept his new position overseeing the Graves County High School ROTC. “We do that through military structure, customs and courtesies, and drills. That will make them more disciplined and better followers. When they’re better followers, they can become better leaders. It’s one of the best leadership courses you can take – here or in college.”
Caldwell has served in various capacities in the Army, including three separate, year-long deployments to serve in the Iraq War. Immediately prior to accepting his current post, for three years he led the ROTC program at Western Kentucky University and was in charge of the program at Murray State University during that time as well.
“On average I’d say that 10 percent to 20 percent of the kids who signed up will pursue the military career,” Caldwell estimated. “Sixty to 70 percent are exploring the possibility of pursuing the military. The bottom 10 percent are here because they’re sent here to help them learn self-discipline. That is about the mix the Jr. ROTC program wants us to have.”
The program is likely to grow as other students see more of what’s involved, Caldwell said. The Army National Guard’s Jr. Guard program brought a military option to the Graves County campus for the first time during the 2011-12 year. The move to Jr. ROTC occurred due to funding changes.
“We haven’t let the cadets run the program yet,” Caldwell noted. “They will run the program to learn leadership. The general thinking is that it takes a program about three years to get up and running, but we’re well ahead of schedule here. My expectation is that we’ll grow and expand.”
For those students who do choose to pursue the military career after graduation, Jr. ROTC carries several benefits. “The cadets will all get the same training, but my speeches to them will be different, based on the route they choose to take,” he said. “Some will go through college ROTC. Others will enlist in the military and others won’t be involved in it after this.”
Caldwell continued, “A lot of what we teach here is the same as in basic training. With that in mind, those who complete two years of Jr. ROTC will have a higher rank when they arrive for basic training. It is a higher pay grade. That’s a huge incentive to enter Jr. ROTC.”
A high school senior who completes just one year of Jr. ROTC also can improve his or her position upon entering the military, but not to the same degree of completing two years in Jr. ROTC.
Members of the Graves County Jr. ROTC will comprise numerous color guards for events throughout the region. The group also will participate in competitions with programs in other high schools in rifle use and physical endurance competitions, among others. Caldwell said the nearest high school Jr. ROTC programs are in and around Ft. Campbell, Hopkinsville, and Clarksville, Tenn., as well as Russellville/Logan County in Kentucky and Dyersburg, Tenn.
College ROTC programs are active at WKU, MSU, and the University of Tennessee at Martin.