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Lee County JROTC program continues to grow

By Staff | Jan 13, 2016

CHUCK?BALLARO Lt. Col. William Zacovic speaks to the Calusa Chapter of the Military Officer Association of American Saturday at Gulf Coast Village about the state of the Lee County JROTC program.

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The Lee County JROTC program’s primary objective is to motivate young people to become better citizens. Many of them have bought into that, making it the largest traditional program in the nation.

That is what Lt. Col. William Zacovic said of the state of the local JROTC program at the regular monthly meeting of the Calusa Chapter of the Military Officer Association of America Saturday at Gulf Coast Village.

Zacovic stressed the goal of the JROTC is not to encourage young people to enlist in the military, but simply to make them better citizens and help them achieve their goals.

“Our philosophy is that everybody has a future and we want to help them achieve their goals,” Zacovic said. “Whatever their potential, we want to help them reach that.”

Over the past two decades the program has grown steadily, from five high schools to 14, with 6,627 cadets and 53 instructors. More than 27 percent of all students are in JROTC, making it the largest traditional program in the country.

Combined, the program performs 55,000 hours of community service, earned $6.2 million in scholarships, and has a nearly 99 percent high school graduation rate, with 38 percent going to college, 32 percent attending vocational schools, and just 20 percent enlisting in the military, Zacovic said.

Dunbar, East Lee and Lehigh Acres high schools have the largest enrollment of cadets, with roughly one-third of all students in the program, Zacovic said, adding the program is all-inclusive, with the best and the brightest learning with those who are at-risk.”

“They give us hope. You hear all the bad things about kids. When you meet and interact with JROTC cadets, they give you hope about the future of our nation,” Zacovic said.

It’s not all about drilling. They learn in the classroom about communication, conflict resolution, first aid and much more. The curriculum is standardized and is in the form of a hard drive. Every instructor has a curriculum manager they can update and customize.

Every cadet is required to have a five-year plan, a pathway to the future that is simple but powerful.

“It gets them thinking about their future. They begin to put together a path to go to Dartmouth or to enlist or to become an air-conditioning tech student,” Zacovic said. “The instructors don’t tell them what to be, it’s a method to visualize how to get to the future.”

Bill Deile said he was surprised by the number of students who take part and that being in an area that supports veterans certainly helps.

“It’s not something that’s easy. The students have goals and standards to maintain. It’s not just signing up and do nothing,” Deile said. “The program is well-organized, well-executed and the community support and veterans support all builds and forms a synergy.”

Marilyn Stout, a member of the MOAA, said she is impressed by all the good the JROTC cadets do for the community.

“At the last parade on Veterans Day, more than 1,000 cadets marched. I did not know it was that big, I knew percentage wise that Oasis has a high percentage,” Stout said. “It’s a great program.”

Zacovic said he thought the MOAA was happy to hear about the health of the program.

“I think our best recruiters are out cadets. The word gets out. We have parents who were cadets and now their kids are cadets,” Zacovic said. “Administrators and counselors recognize the value of the program and encourage students who could benefit to sign up.”