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Grand Rapids Central High School is the city’s oldest public high school. It has seen such graduates as Astronaut Roger B. Chaffee and Former First Lady Betty Ford. It is also home to the city’s oldest JROTC program. There has been concern from individuals who believe that this program is a tool for military recruitment or that it teaches high school students how to be soldiers. The truth is that the JROTC program is America’s answer to making good productive citizens.
What is JROTC? That acronym stands for Junior Reserve Officer Training Corp. The National Defense Act of 1916 set aside funds to create an officer corps in college and high school. At the time the program was created, high school graduation was seen as the gateway to a prosperous career. The JROTC program started at Grand Rapids Central High School in 1920. The school was nine years old at the time.
There are now four programs in the city, one in each of the Grand Rapids Public High Schools. Each school makes up a battalion which is part of the larger unit called the 7th Brigade. The 7th Brigade incorporates all the programs in Michigan and four other states. All brigades are under the command of the training and doctrine (TRADOC) commander Gen. Dempsey, whose headquarters in located at Ft. Knox, Kentucky.
The Central JROTC program has been operating for a long time and has many achievements including several state titles. The program is operated by retired Army veterans that work for the Grand Rapids Public School system. The program has seen its share of good Instructors. The current instructors are Master Sergeant Steven Dedrich and Lieutenant Colonel Ron Janowski.
Central's JROTC program does not exist to make officers anymore. The Military funds three quarters of the programs budget; but not for militaristic goals. The programs mission is to push the cadets to recognize their own abilities and become better citizens of this country. In one year of the program, a cadet will learn government, history, public speaking, First Aid, map reading, career development, financial management, goal setting and discipline. The program also has a variety of voluntary competition teams such as an award winning color guard, drill team, and raider team. These teams promote physical fitness and team work. Many of the Central teams hold current state titles.
Recruiters are not allowed to show up to the JROTC room unless they coordinate with one of the instructors first.
“There is no agenda to promote military service, rather to promote national service” LTC Janowski says. “There is no free lunch; we must all support the country in some way.”
There are many paths students can take when they graduate high school. Military service is just one of them.
LTC Janowski, an officer who served in the Army for 22 years, is a graduate of West Point, U.S. Army War College, Command and General Staff College, and also holds a Master’s of Science in systems management from University of Southern California. His achievements include: research and development specialist for the U.S. Army in Canada and two Cold War tours in Europe, one with the Pershing Nuclear Delivery System. He has been awarded the Legion of merit.
MSG Dedrich is a Non-Commissioned Officer who served for 22 years in the U.S. Army Infantry Air Assault. He holds three cold war tours in Europe and is a veteran of Operation Just Cause in Panama. He also holds three Meritorious of Service awards.
Two large supporters of the JROTC programs are Colin Powell and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. Powell, who is a product of ROTC at City College of New York class of 1958, has described it as one of his happiest experiences of his life. LTC Janowski has voiced the opinion that the JROTC program is the ultimate expression to the spirit of Secretary Clinton’s book, It Takes a Village.
Central JROTC has been facing some dilemmas in the recent years. First, the Grand Rapids Public School system is facing some major budget cuts to sustain operations. This is having some school administrators questioning if the program is needed. Second, after this year, Central High School will no longer exist. It will become the Grand Rapids Health and Science Academy. The school will become a small specialty academy for students in good academic standing. This leaves some GRPS administers to question if there is a need for a JROTC program in a small academy such as the future one will be.
LTC Janowski informed me that Central’s principal, along with the rest of the administration, believe that the program supports all the goals that the Health and Science Academy wants.
I asked LTC Janowski what the draw backs would be to losing the Central JROTC program. “It flies in the face of all the hand wringing over common values that this generation is not learning. If not JROTC, then where do students learn to become good neighbors?” LTC Janowski said. “Take JROTC. This is the best class you don’t take, and it is not the class that you think it is.”
Disclosure: Michael Tuffelmire is a former Central High School J.R.O.T.C. cadet (class of 2000). He was somewhat of a wild card before the program transformed him into the successful man he is today. He attributes most of his success to the program and his instructors.
My name is Michael Tuffelmire. I was born and raised in downtown Grand Rapids. I am a father, decorated veteran and community advocate on issues of community violence, smarter government,local history, and neighborhood revitalization. I am a community organizer and Aquinas graduate with a Masters of Management and a Masters in Sustainable Business. I have been writing for the Rapidian since its infancy in October 2009 and received the 2010 Volunteer of the Year award from the Community Media Center for my writing – an honor for which I am extremely proud. My hobbies include bicycling, camping, paddling, historic preservation, travel, reading, and enjoying the sights and sounds of the city.
Reports on: Inner-city neighborhoods,progresive urban issues, local politics, environmental issues, local events