Vincent JROTC Cadets take the Challenge (community column)

By KATHY COPELAND / Community Columnist

Vincent Middle High School JROTC Cadets celebrated successfully making it through the Leadership Challenge at the Marshall Space Flight Center with a graduation ceremony on Friday, June 7.

Graduation was held in the Saturn V Hall at the Davidson Center for Space Exploration, which is part of the Air and Space Museum in Huntsville. Complete with pomp and circumstance, students walked across the stage to music like that in the movie “Top Gun.”

Previously at the Army National Guard Fort McClellan Training Facility, the Army Leadership Challenge Program is in its second year at the Marshall Flight Center. “Moving it to this facility just made sense—STEM is the trend in education,” said Ret. Col. Diane Richie, who is one of the masterminds behind the move and the Senior Army Instructor for Lee/New Technology High School, which is part of Huntsville City Schools.

Richie joined the Huntsville City Schools after 28 years of service in the Army, bringing a wealth of knowledge and experience having been stationed in various areas around the world in a variety of job assignments with varying levels of responsibility. “This job is rewarding,” said Richie. “The task of teaching students to go beyond their comfort zone and building confidence through experimental learning is what makes kids have that moment. It’s when they say, ‘I can do this’ that makes it worth coming to work.”

According to Ret. Maj. Stanley Murrell, the Vincent Middle High School JROTC Instructor, an Army contract makes it possible for Cadets to attend the Challenge Camp. “Our kids understand the magnitude of this opportunity. They give up their cell phones for the duration,” Murrell said.

Jerome Gates, operations and education training specialist for Alabama’s Army JROTC program, explained that sometimes JROTC is misunderstood. “Some view it as nothing more than a recruitment program.” He explained the program is designed to engage students, encouraging personal accountability. “This facility, the drills and the exercises they have participated in have been designed to tap into their imagination while teaching leadership,” said Gates.

Murrell agreed, saying, “While the program may spark a student’s interest in the Armed Forces, this week they are learning a lot about teamwork and leadership. The atmosphere in this facility is great for STEM teaching and learning. “This has been challenging for our students. They will be tired on the bus ride home,” chuckled Murrell.

Ret. Sgt. Maj. Mary Kyser, VMHS JROTC instructor and a senior Instructor for the Leadership Challenge Program, explained that STEM principles are incorporated in all aspects of running the host facility. According to interns who help run the camp, trainees learn many lessons about the responsible use of resources, specifically through meals and snacks.

Food is weighed and portioned each day, but there is no shortage of options. Trainees also measure liquid and garbage waste to determine how much is thrown away. “They are learning while having fun,” said Kyser.