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ROTC teaches 'life skills'

By Christina Lane
Nov. 6, 2010 at 6 p.m.


When Kalena Frost moved to Longview High School as a freshman, she didn't know much about the students wearing the military uniforms, practicing drills and marching.

She certainly never dreamed the program would save her.

"Look, I'm not going to lie to you. Last year, I thought about dropping out," the high school senior said. "I thought about it, but the only thing was I looked forward to ROTC. I am proud to be in ROTC. It gives you ambition. It's taught me about goal-setting. It's taught me that I can achieve my goals. I can achieve my dreams."

The high school students certainly aren't military veterans. In fact, most of them won't even go into the military. But students in junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps say that's not what high school ROTC programs are about.

Instead, they say the programs provide a place for students from all different backgrounds - kids who might not fit in elsewhere in high school - to come together, form a family and learn life lessons more valuable than what they're taught in textbooks.

"I enjoy it because at the end of the day, I know during one of these hours throughout the course of the day, I've helped someone," Longview High School senior LaDarian Brown said.

Brown is a fourth year ROTC student and he is the commanding officer of the high school program. He has not desire to follow in his father's footsteps and join the military, but he does want to be a leader.

"I understand where these kids are coming from," he said. "I'm grateful that God has given me the ability to work with them."

ROTC is a student-driven program. Students lead the lessons with oversight from advisers. At Longview High School. Sgt. Maj. Walter Stephens and 1st Sgt. Landry Peace oversee the students. There are about 170 students in ROTC.

"What most people don't realize is that we might only have one or two students go into the military from a senior class," Peace said.

If students go into the military with at least three years of ROTC experience, they skip two pay grades and earn about $300 more a month, Stephens said. With two years of ROTC experience, they skip one pay grade.

Most students aren't there for that though. They're in ROTC to learn life skills - leadership, citizenship, character, Stephens and Peace said.

"Our mission is to motivate young people to be better citizens," Stephens said. "That's our mission. That's our focus."

Students select the lessons based on things happening in their lives, Brown said. They discuss everything from money management to dealing with grief.

Many of the students in ROTC come from homes where either mom or dad is missing or where they live with grandparents because neither parent is in their lives, Stephens said.

"We are a family," Brown said. "The older students and the instructors become the dad or grandfather that a lot of kids don't have."

As the commanding officer, it is Brown's duty to oversee the younger students and act as a mentor and counselor to them. He said he tries to know as much about their lives as possible. He's at school from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. to serve his cadets, but his cell phone is always available after that.

Frost, a third year ROTC student, said when she first moved to Longview as a high school freshman, she didn't know anything about ROTC. After hearing others talk about it, she thought it might be beneficial to her.

"I don't have a mom or a dad who are home all the time," she said. "I did not have a sense of authority. When I started ROTC my sophomore year, I learned discipline. That's been a really good thing for me."

If she wasn't in ROTC, Frost said she'd be an average teenager.

"I wouldn't be as respectful and I probably wouldn't care for people like I do," she said. People do have feelings, despite what a lot of teenagers seem to think."

Stephens said the high school is educating a different kind of student than attended classes in his generation. Students today do not receive the same discipline at home that they did decades ago, he said.

"The kids in this class - we have to run them home every day," Stephens said.

ROTC is the outlet for some students with discipline problems, whether they are referred there by the school or the parents.

"Respect," Stephens said. "When you come through that door, the one thing we will not tolerate is disrespect."

The result is that a family is created among the ROTC students and advisers.

"ROTC has taught me not only how to be a leader, but how to be an effective leader," Brown said. "There's a big difference between being a leader and actually having an effect on people. But ROTC has also taught me how to be a disciplined follower. Sometimes as a leader, you don't want to be a follower. ROTC has shown me how to do both."

It's a skill that will come in handy in Brown's future. He wants to be a police officer where he'll be both leading and taking orders. Frost wants to be a chef and hopes to open her own restaurant in the future.

"ROTC builds your self-esteem and it betters you as a person beyond what you could imagine," she said. "If I could go back to my freshman year, the only thing I would do differently is I would join ROTC that year. I wouldn't take this experience back. Never. I have no regrets."

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Kilgore College

11 a.m. to 1 p.m.: Devall Student Center Ballroom; Former students who are veterans will be honored.

Pine Tree ISD

9 a.m. Thursday: Pine Tree Intermediate School

10 a.m. Thursday: Pine Tree Junior High School

Spring Hill ISD

10 a.m. Wednesday: at Spring Hill High School Gymnasium

Hallsville ISD

10 a.m. Thursday: Hallsville High School Auditorium.

Gladewater ISD

9 a.m. Thursday: Gay Avenue Primary. U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Tyler, plans to attend.

White Oak ISD

9:<strong>40 a.m.</strong>: White Oak High School. There will be a luncheon in the cafeteria for veterans afterward. Those who plan to attend, should make reservations by calling Suzanne Bardwell at (903) 291-2029.

New Diana ISD

9 a.m. Thursday: Norton Lovell Auditorium

Ore City ISD

10 a.m. Thursday: Ore City High School Gym

Henderson ISD

9<strong>:30 a.m. Thursday</strong>: Henderson Middle School Auditorium

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Area events

Gregg County

Veterans Day celebration: 11 a.m. Thursday at the Gregg County Courthouse

Rusk County

Veterns Day ceremony: 11 a.m. Thursday at VFW Park in Henderson

Upshur County

Veterans Day gala: 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Nov. 13 at Fox Stephens Air Field in Gilmer

Wood County

Veterans Day parade: 11:11 a.m. Saturday in Mineola

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