ROBERTSDALE, Alabama — Cadets with the Robertsdale High School Junior ROTC program have been busy this summer.
But there’s more to it than that.
“If we just wanted to keep them busy, we could do that here and show a movie or something,” said RHS ROTC Commander Frank Starr. “What our cadets have been doing has been about building leadership skills and building character.”
Cadets from RHS have participated in five straight weeks of camp, Starr said, including two basic leadership training camps (also known as BLTs), one in Stark, Florida, and one in Tennessee. Cadets have also participated in an orienteering camp in Georgia and leadership training in Shelby, Mississippi, and Smyrna, Tennessee.
Three cadets also participated in Boys’ State and one participated in a National Youth Leadership Forum: Medicine Program in Florida and the Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership Forum at Troy University.
“Overall it’s been a good year for us so far,” Starr said. “These leadership academies are things that we haven’t had any participation in about three or four years, so that really speaks well for these cadets and benefits not just them, but our program as a whole.”
This past Monday through Friday, July 8-12, cadet leaders from Robertsdale High School joined Starr, Petty Officer Edward Theodoro and Petty Officer Erin Pate for Freshmen Orientation.
“We have 114 new cadets coming into the program this year, that’s the biggest freshman class we’ve ever had,” Theodoro said. “We had 56 participating in the orientation, only one decided that it wasn’t for them, so we are ending the week with 55.
“What our cadets learned in leadership training over the summer, they are now applying here and using it to teach these new cadets.”
The five-day camp provides the opportunity for team building and an opportunity for these cadets to become familiar with the program, Theodoro said.
“And, in some cases, they can decide whether or not it’s something they want to pursue,” Theodoro said. “It’s not for everybody, but so far almost everybody who started this is still here, so that’s a good sign.”
For freshman cadet Maise Melendez, 14, of Elsanor, it has been an enjoyable learning experience.
“It’s been fun,” she said. “It’s a new experience. I knew some of my fellow cadets coming in, but we’ve had the opportunity to become closer friends and I’ve had the opportunity to make new friends.”
The orientation also helps acclimate students like Melendez who come from a smaller school environment into a larger school environment.
“We’re all experiencing new things, but we’re all experiencing it together,” she said. “That makes a big difference.”
Throughout the week, cadets participated in various team-building activities, and on Wednesday, July 10, they took a trip to Naval Air Station Pensacola, where they participated in a scavenger hunt at the Naval Air Station Museum, ate lunch with base personnel in the mess hall and climbed to the top of the NAS Lighthouse.
Throughout the camp, teams were split up into five equal platoons, Theodoro said. At the end of the week awards were handed out for the best cadet and best platoon.
Lunch was also provided each day, with assistance from Goo Roo’s, Walmart deli, Pizza Hut and L.A. BBQ.
Theodoro said the program, which will include over 200 cadets this year, more than half of them freshmen, has already begun preparation for the coming year, handing out uniforms and cadet handbooks.
“Everything we expect of them is in those handbooks,” Theodoro said. “We want these cadets to be fully committed to our program. Our theme this year is #graduationcomesfirst. It’s on all of our T-shirts, all of the materials we hand out and all of our business cards. If you go online and put that in, it will take you to our page that tells you what it’s all about.”