Commentary: Junior ROTC alive and well at Polytech High

Maybe you have heard rumors about the Junior ROTC program at Polytech. Maybe you heard the program is going away. Maybe you’ve heard there’s no more flight program.

Well, let’s get rid of the rumors and misunderstandings once and for all!

The Air Force JROTC program at Polytech High School is alive and well and growing. This year we had cadets compete for, win and attend an Air Force-funded flight academy this summer. One senior spent eight weeks at North Dakota University in Fargo and a junior went to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida.

They both now have their private pilot’s license (at no cost to the student or family or school) and will be able to continue to fly and stay current flying with our local Civil Air Patrol as they pursue a career in aviation. This year the Air Force is planning on funding over 200 flight academy scholarships. How do you compete for these slots? Apply to Polytech and join Air Force JROTC. The flight academy awards are competitive, but the main requirement for these grants is to be an active cadet in AFJROTC.

Polytech AFJROTC this past year had more than 40 cadets in the air, at the controls of an airplane. Many never having flown in an aircraft before, and on their first flight, the cadets were flying the airplane! We had more cadets flying this year than in the past five years combined. Our orientation flying and other partnership programs will continue to grow with Civil Air Patrol, the Dover AFB Aeroclub, Dover Air Force Base and the DSU Aviation Program.

Over the past school year and over the summer, our AFJROTC students did a lot. They hosted an Apollo 11, 50th anniversary rocket launch and Raiders party where current and our new freshmen students and parents built and launched eight rockets, including a Saturn V scale model. They got to experience a little of what it means to be an AFJROTC Raider team member. Want to find out more about Raiders and competitive Drill and more, stop by Polytech and talk to our cadets and instructors.

During the school year, our cadet Color Guard teams performed at all our home football games, Memorial Day, Labor Day, Veterans Day and other community events. We marched in parades. Our students did over 1,250 hours of community service, including regular visits at the Delaware Veterans Home in Milford, Memorial Day flag laying at local cemeteries, school campus clean-ups and many more activities. Our inaugural 5K raised $1,000 that was donated to the Central Delaware Habitat for Humanity. Our field trips last year included a trip to Wallops Island to learn about and watch the Antares launch this past April. Other recent trips have included the 9/11 Memorial in New York, the National Air and Space Museum in DC and many more.

Any student attending Polytech is eligible to enroll in our AFJROTC. This is a big change from the past. Up until 2018, you could only be a part of JROTC if you were in the Aerospace Science Career Technical Education program (CTE or “shop” as they are commonly known).

Starting two years ago, we opened AFJROTC to the entire school as an additional program. Some saw the loss of the Aerospace shop as a negative for AFJROTC and caused confusion for some. Why? Because of misunderstandings and rumors. What really changed since then? Career and certifications from AFJROTC have not changed at all. Nothing changed in the way the program is run. The only thing that has changed for students at Polytech is that AFJROTC is a better program than before and here’s why.

Open to all students, any student at Polytech can now enroll and reap the benefits of being a JROTC cadet. The certification benefit we offered remains. If you choose to enlist in military service after graduation, you graduate basic military training with a higher starting military rank. In the Air Force you graduate basic as an Airman First Class (E3) rather than as an Airman Basic (E1).

In other words, JROTC gets you a pay raise over and above others who enlist off the street. The biggest benefit for students in our JROTC? Students are able to be in another CTE at the same time (Auto Tech, Masonry, Cosmetology, Computer Engineering, Health Care, Electronic Engineering, etc.) and get the certifications from their chosen “shop” as well!

So for example, a student in Computer Engineering Technology can graduate with various Microsoft and network engineering certifications and at the same time get the certification from JROTC to enter the military with additional rank and responsibilities and thousands of dollars a year more in their paychecks from day one. That’s a win-win situation any way you look at it.

Oh, by the way, there is still no requirement to enter the military even after getting all the leadership and teamwork and self-discipline benefits of participating in JROTC. Even for the cadets who attended the Air Force-funded flight academies this summer, there is no obligation to repay or enter the military.

If you want to learn more, if you are a Polytech student or parent of a Polytech student, or are considering applying to attend Polytech send an email to AFJROTC@POLYECH.K12.DE.US or call Lt. Col. Theo Dressler and CMSgt David Smith, our instructors, at 302-697-3255 Ext. 6060 or 6040.

Lt. Col. (Ret.) Theo Dressler is senior aerospace science instructor for the Air Force JROTC at Polytech High School in Woodside.

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