Three students shine in Junior Reserve Officers Training Corp

Megan Lane/Staff Writer

OC spray, drill and PT tests. These aren’t typical things you hear in a normal high school class, but for a few CFHS students, they are a part of their daily vocabulary. This year Cedar Falls High School has three students, seniors Alex Clopton, Zack Graham and junior Dan Yehieli, participating in Junior Reserve Officers Training Corp (JROTC) at other schools.

JROTC is a program offered by the military to motivate and teach students to become better leaders and citizens. Unlike most classes, JROTC offers students the chance to lead their classmates, teach classes and shine among their peers.

“As a Petty Officer some of my responsibilities are leading drill, command and, specifically, I lead Special Warfare Physical Training along with Daniel Yehieli,” Graham said.

Yehieli said that the group he shares with Graham is composed of “motivated individuals who want to have a harder physical training session than the rest of the unit.”

Clopton also has challenging responsibilities as a Battalion Commander.

“As Battalion Commander, I oversee the entire battalion. I directly supervise the seven Company Commanders who each command their own class period of cadets. I am responsible for making sure they train their cadets to the high standards we’ve set, and I am responsible in making sure that the overall battalion stays on target and meets our goals,” Clopton said.

These three students were introduced to JROTC in different ways. Graham, who has been in the program for little over a year now, researched it online. Yehieli, who’s also been in the program for over a year, was introduced by his mom. Clopton also said that he researched his options after considering a military career and has been in the program since his sophomore year.

All three boys have about 100 to 120 cadets in their units and have faced many challenges in their intensive programs.

“Some challenges of Sea Cadets are the constant excelling of your responsibility and leadership, intense physical training, mental pressure and a new found sense of learning that there is always room for improvement,” Graham said. He also added that time management, responsibility and setting priorities are some big challenges for him.

Clopton also noted time as a challenge. “I am usually between five and 10 minutes late to second period every day, but fortunately every year my teachers have been very accommodating and understanding. Likewise, LTC (Lieutenant Colonel) Stephens and MSG (Master Sergeant) Ledbetter are always understanding when I need to miss JROTC to attend an early morning study session or take care of something before school at CF.”

Finding the time for JROTC is something of an obstacle in itself.

“Often drills can last an entire weekend, so you have to manage your time to complete school work,” Graham said.

But unlike Graham and Yehieli, Clopton has a 30-minute round trip to East High every day to take a normal class period, and on Tuesdays he makes the usual trip to class for first hour but then has to make another trip over in the afternoon for his weekly command and staff briefing providing him with challenges regarding time.

These efforts do not go unrewarded. All three boys get advantages for being in their programs. Students who participate in this program get advanced pays and promotions within the branch if they chose to follow it after completing college. Clopton also added, “one of the big immediate benefits is that the military will pay for all of your college.”

Yehieli and Graham will get advanced pay grade and promoted to E-3 straight out of recruit training, and they will also have a greater appreciation for our nation’s warriors, technical skills, discipline and knowledge that money cannot buy.

Clopton also will receive quite the benefit according to Ret. Lt.Col. Leonard Stephen, Clopton’s Senior Instructor, who served in the U.S. Army for 28 years, both Active and Reserve. He now teaches Clopton in the Army JROTC at Waterloo East High School.

Stephens said, “I have seen Alex’s leadership skills grow very rapidly in this program. In fact, he is now our Battalion Commander, the highest leadership position in the Corps of Cadets. I believe Alex will be offered a nomination to the U.S. Military Academy; I’m certain that Army JROTC has better prepared him for a career as an officer in the U.S. Army. Clopton exemplifies the attributes of Scholar-Athlete-Leader.”

In addition to this, Stephens said, “The most immediate benefit for students taking Army JROTC is direct, hands-on leadership training.

Cadets learn certain basic military skills, for example drill and ceremony, then soon start using those skills as they lead and direct other cadets in positions of increasing responsibility. Longer-range benefits include advanced rank upon enlistment in the military and full-ride scholarships to over 250 colleges and universities. Note that participation in high school JROTC does not require military service.”

Clopton added to this by saying, “JROTC challenges you to step out of your comfort zone, take charge of situations and lead others to accomplish goals. I went into the program as a timid sophomore from a different school, and I am now perfectly comfortable in speaking to large groups, leading people and taking charge of situations. It challenges you to develop your leadership skills, and I am learning what works and what doesn’t as far as motivating and leading others to accomplish a mission.”

Graham and Yehieli also said they enjoy the special teams their programs offer. They both lead a Special Warfare Physical Training team. According to Graham, this team “is a highly motivated PT unit that pursues to excel beyond standards and is specifically designed for cadets seeking a career in the Marine Corps and Special Forces.”

The CFHS students and Stephens definitely encourage others who are interested in joining.

“Army JROTC is the premier leadership training course at this high school, and our door is always open to accept more outstanding cadets like Alex from your high school,” Stephens said.

Graham additionally said, “Sea Cadets isn’t for everyone, but if you’re between the ages of 13 and 17 and you feel like you’re up for the challenge, then don’t hesitate to contact me or Yehieli about the program.”

Clopton also said, “I am willing to talk to anybody who is interested in getting involved in JROTC. It is a great way to develop leadership skills, it looks great on a resume and there are many scholarship opportunities for JROTC cadets. It is also my favorite class of the day because it teaches you real-world people skills, there is a lot of variety and it is a totally different curriculum from any other class out there.”

Class of 2014

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