For others, they find themselves at a crossroads, facing high school graduation, and going to college, entering the workforce, taking a gap year and joining the military are four of the most commonly chosen paths by American teenagers.
Whether military service is in their futures often depends on personal decisions, medical history and a desire to defend freedom, but it can also stem from a love of a program they found in high school, JROTC.
This familiar acronym stands for Junior Reserve Officer’s Training Corps, a program that stemmed from The National Defense Act of 1916, which established these programs at public and private educational institutions.
The act came only a year before the United States’ involvement in World War I, a conflict that spanned from 1914 to 1918.
This military-regulated high school program instills the values of citizenship, service to the United States, personal responsibility and a sense of accomplishment, according to documents from the U.S. Army Junior ROTC.
That program operates in more than 1,700 public and private high schools, military institutions and correctional centers throughout the U.S. and overseas. Approximately 40% of JROTC programs are in inner-city schools, serving a student population of 50% minorities.
Each year, about 314,000 JROTC cadets are taught by nearly 4,000 instructors who are retired from active duty, reserve duty or National Guard Army.
At Magna Vista High School in Ridgeway, students who sign up for the program experience JROTC in a variety of ways, from the classroom to the field, for competitions both in and out of state.
According to Magna Vista’s website, that JROTC program is regarded as one of the best on the East Coast. Students perform community-service projects, handle color guard duties and learn leadership skills.
Sgt. 1st Class John Truini leads that program. To receive instruction from real-life military men and women gives cadets nationwide a glimpse into life in the service.
“It gives them an idea of what military life will be like, in a sense,” said Marlon McNair, a junior at Magna Vista.
Lessons for students
Female cadets make up 40% of the overall cadet population.
Seniors Autumn Willard, Kaitlyn Silvers and Kimberly Rodriguez-Barajas, a sophomore, are three of them at MVHS.
Willard expressed that, although the program teaches discipline, integrity and leadership for students planning to join the military, there are also applications cadets glean for civilian life.
“Students learn how to be responsible for the real world,” she said.
Rodriguez-Barajas said she also gathers knowledge from the program that she applies to her daily life.
“The best skill JROTC has taught me is leadership and taking initiative,” she said. “I feel like they played a role for me to become a better person.
“Students learn many valuable lessons and life skills while having a one-of-a-kind experience in JROTC.”
For Silvers, learning leadership skills, participating in team-building exercised and learning to exercise the proper way rounded out three of her favorite aspects of the program.
Although some choose to go into the military or follow another path out of high school, Magna Vista cadets expressed trust in the skills they learned in the classroom.
“The JROTC programs give high school students an opportunity to take a look into a military branch and see what they do while getting the leadership, education and training,” Rodriguez-Barajas said.
Kolby Quigg, a senior, serves as the cadets’ student commander at Magna Vista. He also competes in the Warrior Raiders traveling competition team.
Quigg said that the best skill he learned from his years in the JROTC experience was leadership, but he also noted other positive qualities.
“Henry County Public Schools’ JROTC programs prepare students for service in the military by teaching cadets necessary traits that will be used in the military,” Quigg said. “It keeps the cadets well prepared and trained.”
Whether students decide to join the military following high school – which approximately 15% of them do – students in Magna Vista’s JROTC program spoke positively about the career choice.
“The military is a good option because it teaches young adults how to be trustworthy, have technical skills and gain money,” Willard said.
Quigg said that joining the military could create a successful life path and instill important qualities in young adults but also noted benefits of the JROTC program outside of a military career.
“No matter if you are going into the military or not, the benefits that students receive from being a part of JROTC are of a wide array,” Quigg said. “It teaches basic life skills that can even be used by an unemployed citizen. The lessons that are learned are endless.”