By Iuliana Petre

Killeen Daily Herald

Killeen High School Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps cadets participated in the annual formal inspection on Thursday in an attempt to retain their rating as a honor unit with distinction.

The 146-cadet battalion, led by Cadet Lt. Col. Justin Burns, began the annual inspection at 8:45 a.m. Cadet staff officers briefed the incoming inspectors from Ellison High School on the overall program and the cadets’ accomplishments throughout the school year.

“I came into this program for all the wrong reasons, but I stayed for all the right reasons,” Burns said.

Burns, 18, plans to attend Texas Tech University in Lubbock after graduation. His future goals include earning a dual master’s degree in architectural engineering and business administration.

“Eventually, I want to own my own (architectural) firm and promote ‘green (energy-saving, environmentally responsible) architecture,’” Burns said.

The concept of “green architecture” is a direct result of what he learned in JROTC about giving back to the community. Burns said the battalion’s mission is to motivate young people to become better citizens, but academic success remains key.

The annual inspection “is an opportunity for the cadets to show off what they’ve been working on throughout the entire year,” said 1st Sgt. Percy Brown, a retired military master sergeant who has been on the Killeen High School’s JROTC staff for four years. “This is not a competition between the Killeen High School JROTC program and JROTC programs in other schools, but it is an opportunity for the cadets to maintain their rating as honor unit with distinction.”

Ratings are based primarily on the overall program operation, which is conducted in accordance with Army and district guidelines.

Lt. Col. Joseph Merlo, Ellison High JROTC program director who inspected the Killeen High program, said beside inspecting uniforms and drill sequences, they interview cadets on the curriculum.

Lt. Col. John Stanley, the Killeen High JROTC program director, said the JROTC program is a “leadership laboratory” in which the cadets’ leadership skills are tested by putting them in controlled stress conditions.

“The focus is on the kids,” he said. “If we do everything for them then they are not learning. My job is only to make sure that what they are doing is ‘safe, smart and legal.’”

The areas in which cadets compete with other JROTC programs are drill team, color guard and the rifle team. There are yearly meets and opportunities for the teams to display their performance skills, such as during football games, homecoming, parades, Battle of the Brazos and the Mesquite State JROTC Skills Meet.

Cadets also participate in community support activities, such as food drives during the Christmas holiday season, toy drives and during yearly service learning projects.

Stanley said the Army and the school district have a contract. Although about 5 to 6 percent of the cadets join the armed forces after graduating from high school, “the purpose of the program is to motivate students to be better citizens, not to join the Army,” said Stanley, a retired Special Forces officer.

Stanley further explained the mission behind the program.

“The JROTC program is the Army’s community service project to help youth,” he said. “It is not a recruiting business (for the armed services); that is not the Army’s intent.”

Command Sgt. Maj. Art Guzman, who is a first-year instructor at the Killeen High JROTC program, said he has an investment here in the program.

“I like these kids. I like their attitude. They’re a unique group. I see them grow especially if they stay (in the program) for four years,” Guzman said. “Parents always come up to me and say, ‘What have you done to my kid? They changed mentally and physically. They are more responsible and a better citizen.’”

Luz Delgado, an 18-year old senior and the cadet operations officer for the cadet battalion, said he was always a trouble child.

“I joined the program (seeking) change and more discipline,” Delgado said.

The senior, who plans on enlisting in the Navy, joined as a junior and said her only regret is that she didn’t join the JROTC program sooner.

Contact Iuliana Petre or call 501-7469.

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