On this Veterans Day, one local JROTC program is building tomorrow’s leaders and a new generation of U.S. servicemen and -women.
Making better citizens is the mission behind Arab High School's junior ROTC program.
In this program, learning to lead comes at a cost. Students work hard and are tested physically, mentally, and socially.
“We place them in leadership abilities, get them out of their comfort zone, because so many of them are anxious," said Keith Pritchett, a former lieutenant colonel and now JROTC instructor. "They’re not used to being uncomfortable.”
Pritchett said leadership skills don’t just prepare students for military service — it prepares them for life.
“The loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, personal courage — those are the things that we preach on and teach on a daily basis in our lessons,” said Pritchett.
It's about "being able to step up ... be a leader,” said Meadow McDonald, a cadet major.
The program is opening doors that some students never imagined possible, until now.
“I want to go to college for senior ROTC and later enlist in the Army,” said McDonald.
Her classmate, Merik Moss, a battalion commander, is considering the same.
“I’m planning on, in college, going to the senior ROTC program and maybe enlist in the Reserve or National Guard,” said Moss.
Pritchett said as a veteran and now instructor, he no longer worries about the next generation of service members. He has great faith in the students he teaches each day.
“Like all veterans, we all sit there and wonder who is going to fill the gap, who’s going to step in the holes that we left,” said Pritchett. “Now, I don’t worry about that.”
The JROTC program is building not only a stronger U.S. military, but it's also building better men and women.
“Cadets, when they leave this program, they’ll go in at a higher rank," said Pritchett. "E2 or E3 in some cases, which is worth $100,000 more over their career."
McDonald said the JROTC program is a great way for her to step up and be a leader.