Folding the U.S. flag

Cadets in Greenville High School’s NJROTC program fold the flag at a recent ceremony for members of the local VFW and American Legion posts.

Whether it’s a patriotic ceremony, football game, school board meeting or just about any other kind of major event in Greenville, there’s a very good chance it will begin with a presentation of colors by cadets in the Greenville High School NJROTC program.

According to Senior Naval Science Instructor LCDR Larry Wilcock, the cadets’ busy schedule is due to two things: the program’s objective is developing exemplary citizens and to give back to a community that strongly supports the program.

“We find it hard to say no,” Wilcock told the Herald-Banner. “We live in a community that is very supportive of the military, and for that reason, we’re one of the few schools in the country where the cadets don’t have to spend a dime to participate when most schools require them to pay at least half of their costs.”

The NJROTC program gets its funding from multiple sources, with the U.S. Navy providing half of its budget, and the rest being paid by the Greenville Independent School District and organizations including the Military Officers Association of America, Disabled American Veterans Association, VFW, American Legion, Golden Kiwanis, Kiwanis, Lions Club, and Rotary Club.

“Again, due to all the support that the community and these organizations give us, we accept most of the invitations that come our way from people wanting to have our color guard at their event,” Wilcock reiterated. “It’s not uncommon for our cadets to get home at 1 a.m. after an away football game on Friday and have to do color guard again Saturday.

“We’ll often go four to five weeks without getting a Saturday off.”

In addition to providing color guard for events, the unit at Greenville High School also does several service projects, such as when cadets served more than 100 veterans at the VA hospital in Bonham on Sept. 11, and when they helped in a cleanup at Long Branch Creek last October.

One of the main reasons why so many in the community support the NJROTC program is the difference it makes in students’ lives.

One of those cadets is Command Master Chief Alejandra Rodriguez, a junior at GHS who hopes to work as an attorney some day in criminal or family law.

“I plan to have a mentorship at a law firm soon,” Rodriguez told the Herald-Banner. “I also want to get a military scholarship and go to West Point.”

As she works toward her goal of entering a military academy, Rodriguez plans to participate in a week-long summer seminar in which she will “live the life of a cadet for a week.”

An aspect of NJROTC that helps students like Rodriguez develop the confidence they need to pursue such ambitious goals is that it entrusts actual leadership responsibilities in the cadets.

“Between me and the other commander, AZ1 Mike Flater, we have more than 50 years of military experience … but most of everything is cadet-led,” Wilcock said. “They learn true leadership, and we have officers in charge of several different departments such as supplies, operations, and a public affairs officer.

“By taking on those responsibilities, they learn discipline and respect, and about consequences, because they’re responsible for the welfare of the other cadets” Wilcock added.

In regard to consequences faced by cadets, Wilcock shared a story about a disturbing find in the unit’s supply room one day.

“One time, the classroom started smelling really bad, and we found a dead rat just inside the door of the supply room who had been there for who knows how long, so I fired the cadet in charge of supplies,” Wilcock said.

All in all, though, Wilcock is still amazed at the transformative impact that ROTC can have on students.

“We had this freshman who was unsure of herself, had no confidence and little self respect, but I saw her desire to contribute,” Wilcock explained. “She went from an unsure, ‘scared little girl’ to becoming a command master chief who could stand in front of a platoon and give commands.”

Despite the widespread community support for the NJROTC program, some people in the community have misconceptions about the organization’s objectives.

“I like to stress that we are not a recruiting tool. We are a citizen development program, first and foremost,” Wilcock said. “Several times per month, people will ask me, ‘How many did you get to join,’ but it’s not about that. It’s about helping kids succeed...helping them to come up with a plan for after they graduate.

“I do more helping with the SAT and helping them get into college than anything. A lot of people don’t realize how much emphasis we put on academics.”

Travis Hairgrove is a news reporter and features writer at the Herald-Banner and covers city government for many municipalities in Hunt County. To reach him outside of business hours, email THairgroveReporter@gmail.com.

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