Lee County Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps
Only Chicago has more high school enrollment, stressing values over enlistment
They wear uniforms and drill and focus on discipline. But the booming Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program, or JROTC, in Lee County high schools isn’t about enlisting in any of the military branches. Students don’t study field tactics or learn how to drive tanks or fire cannons. In fact, "JROTC is very little military,” says retired Lt. Col. Donald Barnett, supervising the Mariner High School JROTC program in Cape Coral. The curriculum is more about instilling such virtues as citizenship, discipline, teamwork and leadership, he says. The program is enormously successful at Mariner and throughout the county, in fact, Barnett estimating the Mariner program at about 560 students in the elective class. That’s out of a total student body of some 1,600 kids.
One of those Mariner students is junior Marilyn Pozo, in her third year in JROTC. From the start of her freshman year, she wanted to join JROTC. “I honestly was anxious to join the program,” Pozo says on a recent afternoon while sitting on a bench by the school’s football field as her instructors stand nearby. “It wasn’t just about recruiting for the military. I joined a team and became part of a family. Ever since then, I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
Pozo touts JROTC to other students. “I always tell them it builds character and leadership,” she says. “It teaches things that no other class can teach you.”
Pozo’s enthusiasm and that of other s in the Mariner program may help e xplain JROTC’s astounding popularity in Lee County―the only school district in the country with more JROTC students is in Chicago. Retired Command Sgt. Major John Humphries supervises the program for
JROTC students don’t fire cannons, but rather learn virtues such as citizenship, discipline and teamwork.
the Lee County School District. He estimates countywide JROTC enrollment at roughly 5,700 students. That’s out of a high school enrollment of around 25,000, meaning approximately a quarter of all Lee County public high school students take this elective.
The appeal is to not only students but parents such as Sara Fitzpatrick Comito, whose son, Rhys Bastien, is a sophomore in the Mariner program. “It helped him get over some shyness and develop leadership skills,” Comito wrote in an email. “He feels more involved and engaged at school.”
Now that she has seen Rhys through nearly two years in the program, Comito is a JROTC fan and recommends the program to other parents. “Definitely,” Comito wrote in her email. “Loyalty, duty, respect, selflessness, honor, integrity and personal courage are the seven Army values the program promotes. The kids develop a nice camaraderie in pursuit of those values.”
Mariner freshman Brianna Carrion’s uncle served in the Army and thought the program seemed “pretty cool.” So she signed up for the class. She likes how JROTC teaches real-life lessons. “One lesson the other week was on etiquette,” Brianna says. “They teach etiquette and how to be a leader.”
The wide-ranging curriculum also appeals to Marilyn Pozo, who hopes to someday become a pediatric oncologist. JROTC, she says, helped her adjust to high school and to mature. "When I was a little, tiny, timid freshman—more than I am now—I was really nervous," explains Pozo, who competes on the drill team. “I was really nervous. I was such a nervous girl. I couldn’t step out. I couldn’t be that person out on the spot. And now I do performances.”
So do other JROTC teams from throughout Lee County. The North Fort Myers High School Mixed Raider team, for example, won the national JROTC title last fall in a competition with five events―obstacle course, cross-country rescue, rope bridge, 5K team run and physical team test. Mariner placed fourth in the same contest.
An interesting side note is that Marilyn Pozo receives career guidance from mentors such as Kimberly Williams, a Mariner JROTC instructor and retired U.S. Army master sergeant. “Master sergeant has talked about how I can reach my goal of being a doctor,” Pozo says.
Steps on that journey are now being taken in Mariner High JROTC classes. Glenn Miller is a professional journalist and frequent contributor to TOTI Media.
Cape Coral's Mariner High School JROTC is one of Lee County's larger programs, with some 560 students enrolled in the elective class.
High school drill teams are fiercely competitive in Florida.