The Harbinger Online

Battling for the Bars: Behind the Uniform


Junior Blake Johnson yells out the commands.

Right face. Forward march. Platoon halt. Left face. Present arms.

His platoon, consisting of students from Shawnee Mission East, South and West, are competing their armed routine, holding rifles, that they’ve been preparing since the summer. All 12 members of the platoon know that one little mistake spotted by one of the six judges can send them from first to last.

Johnson, along with eight boys and girls from East, are part of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC). Their mornings are spent at West, where they learn everything they’ll need for success at ROTC competitions, from naval sciences to respect.

But the armed routine is only one part of the platoon’s score for the day. They’ll also receive a full uniform inspection, from checking the shine on their shoes to making sure their hair doesn’t touch their ears. Cadets also take an academic exam that tests their knowledge on naval sciences, drill movements and leadership skills, along with a physical training test. Together, all of these will determine the results for the competition.

First hour Naval Sciences is spent learning everything from oceanography to leadership and respect that they can carry with them past high school.

“There’s simply no other class like it,” said sophomore ROTC member Shane Phillips. “No other class teaches you how to hold a rifle, no other class teaches you the respect and responsibility the military upholds.”

Cadets learn respect by addressing Commander Vazquez and Chief Wesbrook as “sir” and following higher ranked peers. Phillips, a Lieutenant Junior Grade, reports to Johnson, a Lieutenant. Responsibility is practiced by upholding the integrity of the uniform: making sure it is free of lint, hair, dirt and dust and all ribbons are worn at the correct measurements.

“When you’re in uniform you can’t mess around,” Phillips said. “You have to be mature in it, you want to be mature in it.”

However, the respect of the uniform is not always upheld by everyone. Every Tuesday, ROTC cadets are required to wear their uniform, and every Tuesday Johnson and Phillips both feel the stares and teasing that the uniform brings with it.

“You can kind of tell when you walk through the lunch room that people are looking at you,” Johnson said.

People call Johnson offensive names, like ‘razi nazis’, and wipe Ketchup on the back of his uniform.

Johnson knows the teasing is an insignificant obstacle on his path to becoming a marine after high school. Johnson chose to participate in ROTC because of the benefits it will offer him in the military, including an automatic promotion after serving in ROTC for three years.

In addition, many students choose ROTC because of the leadership and self-confidence it provides. Upperclassman show underclassman the right way to hold a rifle, while underclassman learn how to lead through watching the upperclassman lead physical training sessions.

These lessons of respect and responsibility that ROTC instills in cadets fosters a sense of leadership and self confidence that Phillips believes he would lack without the program. Both Johnson and Phillips agree that the ROTC program has been nothing but beneficial; quitting has never been a thought for either of them.

It is the combination of respect, responsibility and leadership that make the ROTC program a priceless experience to Johnson and Phillips – even if they warrant unwanted stares or get people think this means they’re actually in the military.

“[Me and the commander] aren’t recruiters, we’re retired military,” said ROTC teacher and Senior Chief Westbrook. “The only thing we want to do is help cadets be better citizens and leaders in what they do.”

Through ROTC, cadets learn the fundamentals behind the military, without any obligation to enlist. When they graduate high school with their ROTC diploma, cadets will be decorated with medals and filled with military morales.

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