ASHLAND Chants of encouragement rang out inside Ashland Blazer High School as JROTC students pushed their limits in sit-ups and push-ups.
The Army Cadet Battalion prepares for its inspection in March. US Army inspectors will visit the battalion in March to determine the progress of the program.
LTC(R) John Turner explained that the program must pass inspection or it can be placed on probation and a second inspection will be conducted. If the second is not passed, the program is in danger. Turner assured that the program would be ready.
Turner said they wanted to do more than succeed, they aimed to be named a program with distinction.
“We know what the winning formula is to get through this,” Turner said.
U.S. Army evaluators will come to Ashland on March 10 and interview some of the cadets, Turner said. Students each have a physical and digital portfolio full of assignments they need to complete. These portfolios will be inspected and cadets must take ownership of their work.
The JROTC Battalion Commander at Ashland Blazer is Aryn Dougans. Dougans is responsible for his unit and takes up the challenge with a smile. Not only does she have to make sure she’s prepared, but everyone else is too.
Dougans shared that she recently completed her four-page post for inspection and is now ready to pay more attention to those she leads.
“I have to work on myself to prepare and also help others to prepare while working on myself, which is not hard work, I just have to make time for it,” Dougans said. .
She helps everyone keep track of their homework and portfolios. Everyone is in a different place, which Dougans admits can be confusing for her. However, Dougans lacks the ego that keeps her from admitting she doesn’t know – while continuing to lead by taking the initiative to ask her instructors for the answer and guidance.
After portfolio inspections, cadets will then move on to briefings. Leadership students will introduce evaluators to key events that took place in the unit. One is the December Service Project at Hillcrest City Mission. The students organized a clothing drive at the start of the school year and delivered the collections to the mission in December.
JROTC cadets took the day to escort clients through the mission, fill their cars, and provide mission assistance in any way possible.
“These guys learned a lot about civics, they learned a lot about the difference between service-learning and community service,” Turner said.
He shared that students have learned to pay to give back to the community.
The instructors themselves, Turner and MSG Randy Phillips will both be evaluated. They also have wallets that will be inspected by the military.
Another element of assessment is that cadets must demonstrate improvement. The battalion must show Army evaluators that it is up to the challenge. In August, the battalion noted its weakness in sit-ups.
The unit completes a Cadet Challenge in the fall and spring of each year. This measures their physical strengths in several areas. It contains a one-mile run, maximizing push-ups and sit-ups in a minute each and more.
The cadets have worked each week since August to achieve improvements, charting their progress throughout the school year. Every Friday is a PT, or physical training day, for cadets. Students train for the Cadet Challenge and other physical goals they set at the start of the year. On Friday, the students were indoors due to the cold, but spent time fine-tuning their push-ups and sit-ups.
As half the students lay on the practice mats, pushing their limits, their fellow cadets were screaming encouragement to keep going, to push harder. It will take the whole team striving to achieve their goal to get there. It was evident in their constant encouragement of each other that they want each other to succeed.
Both Turner and Dougans expressed how close the cadets are and the camaraderie between them all.
Dougans said they were able to leave any outside drama at the door. No matter what happens between them outside of JROTC, when they walk through those doors, they’re a unit.
Dougans works hard to make sure cadets know they can trust him. She makes time to connect with everyone via social media after school. She doesn’t just want them to see her as a school enforcer, but as a friend they can count on. She praises her unit and said she will be sad to graduate and leave this spring. Dougans said he would miss them all.
Turner said students come to class ready to work every day, despite the overwhelming number of barriers they’ve faced over the years keeping up with school during the pandemic.
Turner said they try not to overload the students, but he says they like a challenge. Students like to be pushed mentally and physically, he says.
“We try to instill in them manual labor, discipline and maintaining high standards,” Turner said.
Some struggle more than others, but Turner said he noticed students “hunger for that kind of leadership in their lives.”
The goal of the program best boils down to teaching students about leadership – not just in concept but with actual practice. Students have the opportunity to gain hands-on experience leading and being productive citizens.
Instructors place students in leadership positions, then take the time to point out mistakes and give them feedback on how to do better. They want their students to learn from their mistakes.
Turner explained that they challenge and push their caddies, however, they don’t give them anything they can’t handle.
In addition to the unit goal, each student has goals that they set for themselves. Turner said they work with students to set realistic, specific, and time-bound goals.
As they contemplate their March inspection and then the end of the school year, they are getting closer to many of their goals.
Turner said that as a group, they are close to their sit-ups and the goal of falling. They’re not there yet, but he thinks they’ll get there. This is for students to stay dedicated, especially if the school is not in person.
As he spoke with his leadership students, he shared his military experience. When he was on leave, he was expected to maintain. He asked the students the same thing if a snow day or a virtual day took them out of the classroom. He did not ask for excessive gains, but consistency.