The Huntington North High School (HNHS) Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) has just started their second year at HNHS and the group is working hard to fill the shoes of the senior class that graduated last year.
So far, the program has a total of 115 students - and according to one of the program instructors, Sergeant First Class (SFC, Retired) Dana Lescoe, that number grows the more the word gets out about the program.
“This school year is going amazing!” Lescoe says. “The second-year cadets are really encouraging to the new cadets and I get more and more inquiries every day.”
The second-year cadets, known as Let 2’s, are now the leaders of the program - when cadets do things such as marching and physical training, it’s the Let 2’s that are teaching and leading the way.
“They take the role as mentor and truly run their program,” Lescoe says. “Whether it is folding the flag, studying for a test or exercising, our senior cadets lead from the front and by example.”
Jazzmyn Bennett and Lauren Templeton, who are both Let 2’s, see the chance to lead as a highlight of being in the program.
“It’s interesting to watch them march for the first time,” Bennett says.
“I think we’re all very excited to see the Let 1’s grow into this program like we did last year,” Templeton says. “It’s really great to see that we have a lot more girls in the program.”
Lescoe has set the goal of making the JROTC classroom “an atmosphere for growing and understanding the importance of mature decisions and giving back to the community” and, in doing so, has opted to give out zero homework and give tests that are hands-on or a group effort.
“Too many kids graduate not truly knowing how to live in the real world,” Lescoe says. “We expect them to walk across the state and be adults. If I can prepare them for what really happens, using truth and prior planning, then maybe fewer kids will see the rock bottom at an early age.”
Within the JROTC program are the JROTC Raider competitors. Raider, which is the program’s athletic competition, starts on Saturday, Sept. 11, at Blackford High School. There will be a competition scheduled for every weekend through the middle of October. Then, the national Raider competition comes in November.
“We have a great group of freshmen and sophomores to help replace the loss of Alexa Spahr, Ayden Klausing and Sam Elliott,” Lescoe says. “All three of the cadets wore big shoes and it will be tough to fill them.”
The JROTC Raiders have been gearing up for their fall competition season to start for the majority of the summer. Lescoe says the group is “starting to get restless and ready for the real deal” and that “our kids are ready for competition.”
HNHS will host their second Raider competition on Saturday, Sept. 18, at Huntington North. Their first ever competition was hosted this past spring, and the JROTC instructors are planning to go even bigger with this season’s competition. The event will feature food trucks, events going on all day and recruiters will be present as well.
“We would love for the community to come out again and see how hard all these kids work,” Lescoe says. “Not just from our school, but Concordia, Marion, Evansville, Elkhart and even some schools from Ohio and Michigan.”
The competition will begin as early as 8 a.m. and will run until complete. After all of the schools have competed, an awards ceremony will take place - which typically happens around 2 p.m.
Lescoe says that the group has also already been invited to compete in Missouri with some of the top schools in the nation. This event will take place on Saturday, Sept. 25.
“It’s an honor to have been invited, but we plan on going there and giving them a run for the money,” Lescoe says.
Something new that has been implemented into this year’s competitions is parent participation. Lescoe says that, this year, he wanted to do something that would inspire the kids, but also show the families what their children are up to everyday.
“I thought how great it would be to have parents put on the pants and boots and do everything that everyone else does,” Lescoe says. “The kids loved the idea, so we did it.”
Lescoe says that the program has around 15 parents that come out twice a week and do everything the kids do. The group will then compete at the home Raider competition as a team.
“We’re hoping that other schools will reach out to their parents and encourage good health with exercise and maybe have parents compete against each other next year.”
Another change that has taken place this year is the location for some of the group’s practices. Now that the Lake Clare Fitness Park is open to the public, the JROTC program has the option of using the obstacle course located at the park - which helps the group much more thouroughly prepare for competitions.
“It’s amazing!” Lescoe says. “I wish we had our own obstacle course like Blackford, but that is hopefully in the works. The obstacles are amazing and having the property open is huge for us and our conditioning.”
The entire program relies on community spaces and community funding to be able to function. Because the JROTC is not under the Indiana High School Athletic Association umbrella, all of their funding for competitions and gear come from community support, fundraising and donations.
Let 2 Alisha Goodrich notes the support that the program has received from the community.
“We have a lot of amazing sponsors this year,” Goodrich said. “And last year, too.”
Lescoe extends special appreciation to those who have already extended a lending hand, such as Susan Marlow, Lisa Brewer, Lime City Propane, Amy Hall, Pohler INC, Chubs Wood Working, the VFW and several parents of the cadets.
“We have so many extracurricular activities and without the support of the corporation, the parents and the sponsors, we would not be able to give these kids the memories we are able to,” Lescoe says. “Without them, we wouldn’t be able to have these teams or our Military Ball.”
Lescoe says that an anonymous donor even called to help with purchasing T-shirts and sweatshirts for kids in the program that couldn’t afford it.
“This community is amazing and life changing for so many kids,” Lescoe says.
Anyone who would like to sponsor the program or make a donation may reach out to the program via the Huntington North JROTC Facebook page, or by contacting Lescoe at email@example.com.
Lescoe says, “These are our future service members and doctors and citizens. They will change the future someday. Why not change theirs right now?”