ROBERTSDALE, Alabama — A new year is bringing several changes to the NJROTC program at Robertsdale High School, one of the biggest will be the hiring of a new senior instructor and an additional instructor for the program.
Lt. Commander Frank Starr became just the third senior instructor in the history of the NJROTC program at RHS, taking over July 16 for Lt. Col. Scott Meehan, who resigned his position in May, serving in the position for three years following the retirement of the program’s founder, Master Chief Robert Dairy.
“I know that those who have come before me have built a successful program at Robertsdale High School,” Starr said, “and I want to do whatever I can to continue and to build on that success.”
Starr is no stranger to running a successful program. He spent the last four years at Union Grove High School in McDonough, Georgia, about 30 miles south of Atlanta, where his unit won the Orienteering National Championship last year, finished in the top 5 nationally four of the last five years in the Brain Brawl National Championship; was ranked third nationally in shooting competition, including having the No. 7 shooter in the Navy, 27th out of 7,700 shooters nationwide in individual shooting competition. His teams were also ranked among the top teams in regional drill competition.
Starr said he is aware that Robertsdale High School has been ranked in the top 10 nationally over the last three years in the Navy’s Academic Bowl Championship.
“I want to bring that level of success to other competitions,” he said. “I would also like to see us compete in S.T.E.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) competition.”
A native of Frisco City in Monroe County, which is about 75 miles north of Robertsdale, Starr joined the Navy straight out of high school and spent 11 years as an enlisted officer specializing as a cryptological technician.
“Most people think cryptology is like James Bond,” he said. “James Bond got to shoot the bad guys and he always got the girl. Trust me it’s nothing like that. We’re more into gathering intelligence, listening in on the bad guys, and gathering information.
After retiring from NAS Pensacola, Starr earned his master’s degree in education and served NJROTC programs in Kentucky, Indiana and Georgia, along with a brief stint at Marion Military Institute in Alabama before getting the opportunity to return to Baldwin County.
“This is really a homecoming for me,” he said. “When I retired (with Naval Intelligence), we retired to Elberta and we have a home there. I enjoyed my time in those other places, but in the end they just weren’t home. This is home.”
Also new for Robertsdale this year will be the addition of 35 new cadets who will join the program from the newly formed Elberta High School.
“This is an opportunity for them and for us,” said Petty Officer Edward Theodoro, who begins his seventh year as a science instructor at RHS. “There is a waiting list of 200 schools to join the NJROTC program and they’re only filling five per year, so there’s no way Elberta students would have this opportunity otherwise.”
For Robertsdale, the addition of 35 cadets means that the program will be above the 150-cadet threshold to qualify for upgrading from a unit to a battalion. It also means that the program was able to hire a third instructor, Petty Officer Erin Charles Pate, who began on July 8.
A native of Miami, Florida, Pate joined the Coast Guard at age 23 and recently retired after serving 20 years.
“When I retired I knew I wanted to be a part of an ROTC program and that this is where I wanted to be,” he said.
When he contacted Meehan back in May, Pate said, he had no idea that the opportunity would present itself so quickly.
“It was like an answer to a prayer,” he said. “My wife has family here. I have nieces and nephews that graduated from Robertsdale. It was just the perfect situation.”
The addition of the 35 cadets from Elberta brings the RHS NJROT program to more than 180 total cadets, Theodoro said.
“I believe we are the largest ROTC organization in the state,” he said. “I know we are the largest single organization on campus.”
Cadets from Elberta High School will be transported to RHS for one period during the day.
“It’s important that we maintain a cohesive unit,” Theodoro said. “We don’t want this to be cadets from Robertsdale and cadets from Elberta. We want everyone to act as a single unit with the same goals to advance the success of our program.”
Each year the cadets all have matching shirts, Theodoro said, and this year’s colors will match Elberta’s colors of black and white. They will also include the slogan “Warrior strong.”
“It’s fitting because Elberta High School’s mascot is the Warriors, and I think it fits with a military theme,” Theodoro said. “When we presented the idea to our cadets, they were all on board with it without complaint. I think it speaks to the quality of our cadets.”
Freshman Henry Arthur is one of the 35 incoming cadets from Elberta High School and said he is excited about the opportunity to join the NJROTC at Robertsdale High School.
“I’m excited about the opportunity to participate in a leadership role,” he said, “both here at Robertsdale High School and at Elberta High School.”
As a freshman, Theodoro said, Arthur has an opportunity to take on a leadership role for future cadets joining the program.
“I can see someone like him leading this program one day as a cadet commander,” he said.