The familiar words “Off we go into the wild blue yonder…” from the United States Air Force Song inspires commitment, courage, and confidence.
The Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (AFJROTC) at Wasatch High School is just as exciting. With no obligation for military service, this unique academic program prepares students for college, careers, and any future endeavors. Its focus is specialized and comprehensive-unlike any other elective.
The AFJROTC program encompasses academics, leadership, physical fitness, community service, co-curricular clubs, and competitions. This class is taught by two retired Air Force members, Lieutenant Colonel Denise Harris and Master Sergeant Kevin Sater. In this cadet-run program, students can earn one elective credit per school year and can join any semester during their four years of high school. Cadets are eligible for promotion each term, which makes it easy to earn advancements, higher rankings, awards, and have different leadership opportunities. Students enrolled are eligible for a Wasatch Varsity letter, PE credit, and it enhances college and career resumes. The curriculum includes: Leadership Education (discipline, responsibility, citizenship, customs and courtesies, communication skills, principles of management and drill) Aerospace Science (principles of aircraft flight, history of aviation, development of air power, contemporary aviation, exploring space, astronomy, geography, cultural studies) and Wellness and Physical Training.
Cadet Audrey Bailey, a junior, said, “I like the curriculum that we have. It’s really interesting to learn about what kind of colleges I can go to, and what kind of space things are going on. It’s really fun.”
An Extraordinary Beginning
Although this distinguished program started nationally in 1911, it is only in its third year at Wasatch High School. The school district is fortunate to have the program take off when it did. In early 2017, Claire Mair, a vice-principal at Wasatch, was visiting the old Provo High School. She explains, “I saw kids in uniforms carrying a folded flag with great dignity, so I followed them to their class and started asking questions. I had no idea about JROTC at Provo; however, a few years earlier, one of our students who moved here from down South, had expressed how much he had loved JROTC in his old school and wished we had one here. It just so happened that the visit [to Provo High School] was shortly after. It was as if the stars aligned.”
Master Sargent Kevin Sater explains, “The Air Force evaluator came here and looked at the school, the community, the kids, the teachers, the counselors, the administrators, and was so impressed. When he went back to the headquarters in Alabama, he told them Wasatch needs a program right now. They jumped Wasatch to the top of the list. Usually, it’s about 5-10 years depending on a lot of different things. They were blown away with this school and community.”
An Extraordinary Experience
Claire Mair conveys, “I love the leadership opportunities students have in the class as well as outside of the classroom. Students are in charge of so much of it. I love the dignified manner of their presentations, inspections, and ceremonies. The students plan and implement so much of what happens. I love all of the different kinds of competitions JROTC students can participate in. Some are academic, some physical, some ceremonial. They have a drill team that competes with rifles, an obstacle team, a competitive academic team, and they have a Color Guard. I love seeing students proudly wearing their uniforms! The academic curriculum in the classroom is also first-rate. I love that it is not a recruitment program. We have had some students, however, who have chosen a military education or vocation, and some have received amazing scholarships and opportunities. Most of the students just want a great high school experience and a way to belong to an awesome organization and be involved in something way bigger than themselves.”
One of the most notable services to the community is the Color Guard at various events, especially varsity athletic competitions. The dignified way the flag is presented is memorable and helps keep things in perspective.
Cadets are never under any obligation or pressure to enlist in any military branch. If students choose a military path after graduation, there are advantages if they complete at least three years of JROTC, such as higher rank/pay if they enlist. If a cadet wants to pursue a nomination to one of the military academies or a college ROTC scholarship, each service values JROTC as a positive in the application process. Colton Furnish, a sophomore, already knows he wants to join the marines. “I explored with what I could do, and I really don’t want to go to college when I finish high school, so the easiest way, in my opinion, is to join the military. My dad’s father was in the Air Force; he was a raidar man. My mom’s dad was in the Navy as a frogman, the beginning of the SEALs. I didn’t really know any of them, but my dad was going to join the Marines, and that’s how I heard about it. After that, I put the pedal to the medal.”
Senior Tanner Jensen shares, “It allows so many different groups of people to come together as pretty good friends. I’m friends with people that would normally drive me crazy, but they’re some of my best friends now. We all love each other; that’s probably my favorite part. It gives you a little sense of belonging.”
JROTC is a unique experience that combines leadership, academics, comradery, and fun. Students involved in Wasatch High’s phenomenal AFJROTC program will soar high as they go off into any wild blue yonder.
Who Can Join?
Students in grades 9-12 that live in Wasatch County (which includes homeschool or charter school students) can join anytime by talking with their guidance counselor. Current 8th-grade students are encouraged to look at adding AFJROTC as they start building their schedules for the upcoming school year.
Visit their Facebook page: Wasatch High School Air Force JROTC program or contact Lt. Col. Denise Harris, [email protected]