Caesar Rodney High JROTC breaks community service records

Caesar Rodney High SChool JROTC students pose for a photo outside of Legislative Hall before social distancing guidelines were established. The students have shattered previous records for community service this year. (Submitted photo)

CAMDEN – Community service is top of mind when it comes to the JROTC cadets at Caesar Rodney High School, said Col. Mitch Berger.

“People always appreciate it. They can’t get enough of seeing the kids, and they’re proud of the kids,” he said. “Many of them are veterans, and so they like seeing young folks in uniform. They like seeing young folks doing things for other people.”

By March, the 130 cadets in the Air Force JROTC program at Caesar Rodney already had shattered the previous year’s records for community service hours.

For eight years in a row, Col. Berger said, the cadets have broken the year’s prior record.

“Sometimes, it’s only by a couple hundred hours,” he said. “This year we’re going to break the record from last year by at least 1,000 hours.”

At the beginning of March, the cadets had completed more than 175 community service events and accrued more than 5,100 hours in community service, 5,124 hours in leadership and practice. They had also collected 315 pairs of shoes, which were part of a drive in which the cadets participated.

The cadets average about 40 hours of community service hours. The highest anyone has put in is about 238 hours.

“The cool thing is, the kids get to lead everything,” said Master Sgt. Jon Wedel. “They get the opportunity to make mistakes and take responsibility.”

JROTC is an elective course at the high school, and Col. Berger said its leaders have high expectations for their students.

“This isn’t your regular elective,” he said.

When the student program shows up to volunteer, Col. Berger said it often “takes some getting used to for some of the adults that are used to dealing with adult volunteer groups.”

“The first time that happens, they always give us a side look and then afterwards, they all rave, ‘I cannot believe these kids, how hard as they work, the attitudes they have,’ and all that stuff,” Col. Berger continued. “This is about the kids planning the whole thing from beginning to end.”

Sgt. Wedel said the school has had a pretty consistent record of its students going on to be accepted at the Air Force Academy or Naval Academy.

And while Col. Berger said less than 20% of students in the JROTC program end up in the military, he noted the skills in the elective are universal.

“We say we’re developing citizens for the nation and our community. The community service part is a big part of that,” he said. “We feel our job is getting these guys ready for after they get out of this building, so they’ll be successful here, but also when they get out of high school, so whether going to the military, the workforce, to college, whatever they’re doing.”