FAIRFIELD — To get a full grasp of the amount of activities in which the Vanden High JROTC group takes part, one can just look at the dizzying list that hangs in the front of class.
A lengthy schedule full of different colors displays the volunteer events for the students. As overwhelming as it looks, it’s only a portion of the 72 events and 3,000 volunteer hours put in by the JROTC classes.
All that has led to consecutive years of earning the Air Force JROTC Distinguished Unit with Merit award. Vanden’s group will be interviewing for the third straight award in the coming weeks.
Maj. Marian Conners, who leads the JROTC program, deflects all credit for getting the students involved. Collins said the JROTC cadets plan the events, communicate with one another, raise funds and assign duties themselves. That includes recently raising $1,100 in a few days for Travis Air Force Base’s Wounded Warrior program.
“They just are always on their game,” Collins said while class members feverishly completed their daily jobs. “It blows my mind how selfless they are. I was shocked.”
Vaughan Ramon, the volunteer chairwoman of Lambtown in Dixon, said her group was so impressed with the work ethic and respect shown by the 15 or so JROTC members who recently volunteered that it decided to help out financially. She visited the class last week to present a $200 check.
Ramon said one of the things that stood out was the fact that the volunteer effort wasn’t a JROTC-sponsored gathering, rather the students showed up themselves after getting a call for action.
“This was something they did on their own. That’s what makes it even more remarkable,” Ramon said. “They are so responsible and worked so incredibly hard. These kids, it’s amazing how much elbow grease they put in.”
Collins oversees a total of four grade levels, which progressively teaches them more as they advance. Focusing on life skills, Collins said, the cadets are also taught a combination of aerospace, geography and history, and are given individual duties.
Dressing in military attire once a week, the classes also take part in physical training, color guard other military-related activities. Collins said only a small portion of the cadets go on to join the military, but she does have two students who have already enlisted and will begin training after graduation.
One of those with large aspirations is Jeremiah Taylor, a 17-year-0ld senior who hopes to be admitted to the U.S. Air Force Academy. He’s been busy completing paperwork and endorsements, something he said JROTC has helped with.
With a father in the Air Force, he first saw F-15s overhead when he lived in Idaho and fell in love with them. It was an easy choice to join JROTC when he arrived at Vanden.
“I’ve been wanting to go to the Air Force or Marines since I was a little kid. I’ve always wanted to be an officer,” Taylor said. “I thought it would prepare me for the rigors of the military life. It’s done an excellent job. The things that ROTC has taught me has helped develop the character I have today.”
As the cadet lieutenant colonel, he’s leading the 166 cadets in the program. When he first assumed the position, it seemed overwhelming. He soon realized it wouldn’t be hard at all.
“I told them my expectations. But I’m not the only one with those expectations. They do, too,” he said. “It’s not just one person’s job. It’s a combination of the efforts. Whatever is on the bottom is what’s holding you up.”
If it wasn’t for JROTC, 17-year-old Clarimar Maldonado said she wouldn’t be as social or know what it’s like to volunteer with so many groups.
“It’s all about the people involved and the opportunities they offer. Without them, I wouldn’t have got to where I am today,” said Maldonado, a cadet chief master sergeant. “They’ve helped me reach beyond what I thought I could do.”
Before enrolling, Maldonado said she was an introvert. She said that all went away after interacting with her peers.
“I found out I could actually talk to them and mingle. I could meet more people,” she said. “I found I really liked the community service aspect. I found out I really have a passion for helping others. I wouldn’t have realized that without JROTC.”
Reach Danny Bernardini at 427-6935 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/dbernardinidr.