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Oak Harbor’s Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps is biggest in the state

The members of Oak Harbor High School’s Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) unarmed drill team go through their maneuvers during a Veterans Day assembly. - Dennis Connolly / Whidbey News-Times
The members of Oak Harbor High School’s Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) unarmed drill team go through their maneuvers during a Veterans Day assembly.
— image credit: Dennis Connolly / Whidbey News-Times

By DENNIS CONNOLLY

Staff reporter

Oak Harbor High School’s Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) is the largest in the state of Washington.

It has 180 members, 116 males and 64 females according to retired Cmdr. Mike Black, senior Navy science instructor at Oak Harbor High School. It certainly doesn’t hurt that OHHS is less than five miles from Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, where 10,000 people work everday.

But it’s more than that.

“There’s lots of different reasons,” Black said. “Most kids have some interest in the military and they may want to pursue a career or they like the structure or discipline they can find in the JROTC.”

Though only a freshman, 14-year-old Samone Lewis is looking to join the Navy.

At the recent Veterans Day Assembly, she was struck by the pictures that active-duty Navy people showed of their trips to Southeast Asia.

“I liked the pictures of that woman (Ensign Kristin Burks, nurse) that showed how she was helping people in Cambodia and I like to travel,” Lewis said.

The JROTC started in Oak Harbor in 1973. Prior to 1964 it was primarily an Army organization but was opened up to all services after 1964.

It is involved in all eight Oak Harbor schools and many other things, Black said.

“We have an armed drill team, an unarmed drill team, color guard that appears all over the place, a marksmen team, a physical fitness team, an academic team and an orienting team,” Black said. The last team consists of members going to various parks, going to a starting line and discovering the course with map, compass and 16 electronic check points along the way -- a trial run with a map.

Brendan Bristow likes that JROTC instills confidence, determination and leadership and helps prepare him for the military.

Bristow is a 14-year-old and likes the idea that JROTC demands responsibility and he hopes to attend the Naval Academy.

Black says he’s found that some of the best students over the years say they came into it for the leadership.

“Not surprisingly a lot of kids are looking for discipline and structure. The kids who seem to thrive or do well in our program know it and are willing to adhere to that,” Black said.

Another thing Black sees is an increase in female membership in JROTC.

There are 64 girls in the 180 members.

“That’s a significant number of girls,” Black said. “And mostly they were drawn because of the leadership opportunities.”

JROTC units are comprised a lot like military units and they have a commanding officer, executive officer, supply officer, leader on the teams and leaders in the classroom.

“I think a lot of the kids join here and stay here because they have a feeling of belonging to something, and it’s a source of pride of living up to the standard and they want to be part of something,” Black said.

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