The ABC’s of leadership

Officer in Charge, Retired Cmdr. Rick Gile, takes a moment in front of the tents where his NJROTC stay at night. Dennis Connolly/Whidbey Crosswind

The kid is in trouble.

He’s walked several yards on the wooden 4-by-4’s but slips on the last one, falling into a pool of steaming lava.

Meanwhile, the 30 men and women in his platoon just go on talking, like it’s a game. Which it is.

For the 10th year in a row, Naval Air Station Whidbey Island hosted the week-long Northwest Leadership Academy last week.

Each year 120 cadets from the Navy Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps are picked from Area 13, which encompasses Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Utah, Nevada, northern California, Hawaii, Japan and Guam.

The cadets are broken up into four platoons of 30 each, and apply themselves to drills, military history, navigation, orienteering and physical fitness — and by walking on 4-by-4’s over the grass, which they pretend are steaming pits of lava caused by a volcano on a South Sea Island.

Brittany Kjos seems to like it. The junior from Oak Harbor High School wasn’t keen on the tents they sleep in during the week or the physical training they must do the first couple of days, but now she likes it.

Brittany Kjos

“It gets cold at night sleeping in the tents, but it’s also been very rewarding too. I learned a lot of leadership skills getting from one place to another,” she said.

Cmdr. Rick Gile, the officer in charge of the program, says being rewarding is only one part of the NJROTC program,

“Honor, courage, commitment and today, leadership team builders,” says Gile, “The alphabet of what makes a good citizen.”

One of the biggest misconceptions about the NJROTC program is that high school students who take part in NJROTC go into the military.

That’s not necessarily true, but students say they like NJROTC because it helps them be better students.

They like learning the alphabet of those qualities that are encouraged — honor, courage and commitment.

“What is true about NJROTC students is once they become cadets, they have better attendance, better grades, better attention paid, far less disruption, less problems and more go to college,” said Gile. “And it’s true for high schools across the country.”

Another bonus to the program is the feeling of being a part of something, of belonging.

“A lot of kids have nothing else and don’t fit in anywhere,” said Gile. “They get structure and discipline here. Kids that got straight F’s get straight A’s.

“Whether it’s drill, color guard, orienteering, physical fitness or academics, for everyone who goes to NJROTC, there is something they can fit into that gives them a sense of belonging,” he continued.

That’s why 18 retired Navy and active-duty Marine Corps personnel gathered on NAS Whidbey to look out for these cadets.

On their own time, on their own dime. For NJROTC, and for 120 kids who are better off for it.