Some teenagers go on vacations with family, some get industrious and find summer work, and others attend summer school.

However, one group of youth from eight high school Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps programs in the Central Texas region kicked off their summer at the JROTC Cadet Leadership Challenge summer camp June 14-17 at Fort Hood.

During four days of structured training, 145 cadets learned the significance of teamwork, leadership and motivation at the individual, team, squad, platoon and company levels.

“These are the things we are trying to instill,” said retired Lt. Col. George Matthews, senior Army instructor at Shoemaker High School in Killeen. “The cadets embraced the challenge with both arms, legs and feet. They endured the hardships of good soldiers. So to be out here in summer, not being inside playing video games and enduring the hardships that I endured and other soldiers endured for years; to see them doing it, is a great thing.”

The purpose of JCLC is to emphasize all the attributes of the JROTC program outside of the school environment. Cadets were given the opportunity to serve in the roles of squad, platoon and company-level leadership each day, giving each cadet valuable experience at supporting their teams.

“Cadets picked to come out here have showed potential by being promoted through the program,” said retired 1st Sgt. Cleveland Ziegler, Army Instructor at Shoemaker High School.

During land navigation training, the cadets trekked as teams though the Texas heat, navigating from point to point, not knowing the next day would be a true test of their physical and mental agility.

The following day, squad-level training at the Leader Reaction Course forced cadets to think things through, communicate effectively and band together over various obstacles.

“The number one thing I learned was the importance of communication. You’ll never know what someone is thinking. So if you don’t communicate what’s going on, you’ll never know. Also, communicating ideas when faced with challenges (is) great for the team,” said Hannah Clayton, a 15-year-old cheerleader and JROTC cadet at Waco High School in Waco.

All these tests culminated in a final task made up of maneuvering through an obstacle course, climbing a 60-foot wall and rappelling from the top of it. This forced the cadets to rely on their training and lean on their perseverance to overcome their fears.

“We’re here to challenge them to be leaders — to be a leader, you have to be a great follower and know how to be a member of the team, look out for each (other), stay motivated and challenge themselves,” Matthews said.

Clayton, a first time attendee, said, “I feel like this camp definitely separates the normal people and the people who want to have leadership roles in their life. The leadership camp really shows us the team work we will need in life.”

As the saying goes, all good things must come to an end. It was a bittersweet week for retired Lt. Col. Garry McNiesh, the senior Army instructor at Harker Heights High School.

“This is his last day as an instructor and last day in uniform. After 47-and-a-half-years of service to the Army,” said retired Lt. Col. John Stanley, the JCLC commander.

Even though the course was only four days in length, these cadets walked away with more than just leadership experience. They walked away with lasting friendships and the true knowledge of what it takes to be a leader.

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