Rutherford County School’s Spotlight: Blackman High JROTC

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Rutherford County Schools

From Rutherford County Schools:

Students who enter Blackman High School as a freshman have no shortage of opportunities and clubs to join. There are star-studded sports teams, academic organizations, and arts clubs – and then there’s JROTC.

Blackman High School’s Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps — more commonly known as JROTC — is a military-oriented leadership organization which has been a part of Blackman since 2000.

One of the great things about JROTC, according to Principal Justin Smith, is that the organization is welcoming to all.

“You may be a guy my size, and you’re probably not going to play football. But you can join JROTC and excel. You’ve got such a wide variety of opportunity in JROTC where kids from any space can find success and belonging.”

What makes a Blackman student special is hard to put your finger on, Smith said.

“Truly, it begins for so many students moving through a community of excellent schools — and the expectations that begin and how they’re carried over when they’re in elementary school and middle school. There’s kindness,” Smith said. “There’s respectfulness that’s not required or forced. There’s a deep care that I really think speaks to everything from our building to our faculty and how they invest in caring for our students. Students figure that out and it’s reciprocated.”

Annabelle Wooten and Daryl Hickman III are both part of the school JROTC program.

Hickman is the command sergeant major for the battalion.

“We have a really deep history,” Hickman said. “We stay with tradition and stick to the same concepts. That’s what has worked for years, and we really like to keep that same feeling we have within the battalion.”

Wooten is the cadet captain of S5, which oversees the public relations function. To Wooten, JROTC is a “family within a family.”

“We always try to support each other and help each other out,” Wooten said. “We want anyone to join that thinks they’re going into the military or not. We want you to do the best you can do.”

The transformation that happens when a Blackman student enrolls in JROTC is unique. Col. Jeffrey Gaylord describes JROTC as a path to graduation as well as a leadership program.

“There are several different routes they can take,” said Col. Gaylord. “They can enlist in the military, they can go ahead onto post-secondary education through the senior program, which is ROTC and college — there they can possibly commission as a second lieutenant into any service. This program gives students the leadership skills to pursue those goals. Likewise, if you want to do JROTC and graduate from high school, go to college and then you decide to go into the public sector, whether it be local, state or national government, you have a good foundation of leadership.”

The JROTC program at Blackman offers multiple pathways for students, whether they are gifted athletically or academically. There’s a place in Blackman’s JROTC program for any student to develop into a leader.

“We have our athletics which is physically demanding,” said Hickman, “and we also have J-lab for our brainy kids out there. There’s so much JROTC has to offer that you don’t only have to be part of the class. There are also our teams. We have community service. There are so many things you can do through JROTC, you’re going to find new ways to develop yourself as a person.”

One result of the leadership development taking place within JROTC is the fanning out of student leaders throughout the Blackman community. JROTC members are part of sports teams, clubs and other organizations throughout the school. This spread of leaders is having a noticeable impact on school culture and community.

For Wooten, JROTC offered a chance to belong to an organization with many opportunities.

“For me, I joined JROTC because a neighbor convinced me to,” Wooten said. “He’s a senior this year and I thought it was going to be very much like PT every day. But it was very engaging and got me very involved. I joined color guard and drill and saber guard, J-lab and rifle. I did all those teams. I finally got to do raiders this year. I used to be a drama theater kid, and then I got the complete opposite of that. So, learning to have discipline and not fidgeting and not being nervous and having confidence in yourself.”

Hickman started his JROTC career as manager of the rifle team. Now he is the most senior ranking enlisted cadet in Blackman’s core of cadets.

“As a freshman I was very nervous,” Hickman said. “I was very shy. I didn’t talk to many people. It became easy to start talking to people within JROTC because we all had a similar ideology and concept. We were all very similar in a way, and then I learned to become friends with others and learned from instructors on public speaking. As a leader you must start somewhere, and I remember being within my freshman and sophomore year I had to become that leader and had to be the one to step up. I got accepted into my dream college, Virginia Military Institution. So, I plan on going there and after basic with the Marine Corps, I plan on being commissioned as a second lieutenant.”

As a program which prides itself on developing strong leaders, Blackman’s JROTC leadership models excellence for Blackman cadets. In its 20-year history, the organization has been awarded numerous trophies and commendations — and supported many RCS students in establishing themselves as emerging leaders.

“You have to understand, we’re the only program in Rutherford County which has three instructors,” Col. Gaylord said. “It’s the largest program and combined we have over 90 years of experience in the military. So, we’ve seen it, done it, experienced it. Teaching these young people to strive for new goals, we see them, and we challenge them. We look for ways to give them challenging opportunities and to improve themselves. To increase their self-confidence.”

“There’s so many things that JROTC can offer,” Hickman said. “Try every single one of them and see where you land, because I can guarantee you would develop and become a better person than you are.”

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