With the information highway revolution and advent of social media, a common fallacy is to simply label "Generation Y" as the "Facebook Generation."
However, high school students committed to the U.S. Army JROTC citizenship program continually transform that label into an innovative leadership strategy.
Of the 290,000 Army JROTC cadets nationwide and a few select Department of Defense Schools worldwide, 18,000 cadets competed in a national academic competition with only 41 continuing on to compete in the Tri-Service Academic Bowl championship held at George Mason University in Fairfax County, Va., June 24 – 28 in conjunction with the annual Army JROTC Leadership Conference attended by an additional 200 leading cadets representing approximately 64 schools.
Approximately 16 schools were represented by Air Force JROTC academic teams during the competition, while Navy JROTC was represented by four schools.
The Army JROTC Leadership and Academic Bowl (JLAB) is hosted each year by College Options Foundation, an organization dedicated to enriching the academic development of high school students and assisting them in their preparation for higher education.
"Using academic competitions, college exam study guides, college admissions tutorials and personalized counseling," Terry Wilfong, founding president of College Options Foundation, said, "we have assisted thousands of students to attain their dreams of attending college."
The foundation’s academic competitions are designed to challenge and prepare high school students for college entrance exams using a fast-paced internet-based program designed by i.d.e.a.s. at Disney-MGM Studios.
The foundation’s JROTC Academic Challenge tests teams of five cadets on their knowledge of JROTC curriculum, high school math, science and language arts.
Of the 24 schools competing in the Tri-Service Academic Bowl championship, third place went to Naples High School of Naples, Fla.
Claudia Taylor Johnson High School of San Antonio, Texas, came in second place, while the coveted first place championship title went to Marmion Academy of Aurora, IL.
This is the second consecutive year the Academy placed first in this competition.
"In those critical last moments of the competition, we were absolutely relieved when the Air Force team gave the wrong answer," said Marmion Academy Cadet 2nd Lt. Mitchell Heaton, 17, academic team leader and incoming senior. "We worked hard as a team, and it paid off."
The placements for the leadership teams are as follows: Soddy Daisy High School of Soddy Daisy, Tenn., came in third. Union County High School of Union, S.C., second; and Claudia Taylor Johnson High School of San Antonio, Texas, won first place.
"These students represent the best of the best from thousands of high schools," Wilfong said. "Most importantly, they are from all walks of life while having two things in common: They are very smart and many are from low income families. These kids are beating the odds."
Throughout the duration of the conference, cadets from both the leadership and academic teams collaborated on peer-to-peer mission projects, building innovative educational software to assist more than one million high school JROTC students annually on standardized testing and general high school curriculum.
Partnering with Marvel comics, and Disney-MGM Studios, these programs will assist JROTC cadets around the world in their academic endeavors.
"A lot of studying and academic preparation went into this year’s competition," Heaton said. "With our peer-to-peer projects, it’s great knowing that our hard work will also help somebody else out in the long run. We have a lot of brilliant students in our battalion preparing for next year’s academic competition, and I’m ready to help train them up and hand over the reins."
Cadets from all service branches worldwide participate in a myriad of leadership discussions through the JROTC World Facebook page, initiated by College Options Foundation.
This platform allows student leadership teams to interact, reflect and learn about leadership programs and systems to improve their local units. Among the discussion topics, cadets are asked to answer the question of who their hero is.
"My hero is definitely my father, an Army Green Beret, Sgt. 1st Class Hester, who was a great leader to his men and served over four combat tours in Iraq," said Cadet Lt. Col. Jacob Hester, 17, an incoming senior at Fort Payne High School of Fort Payne, Ala. "He has been a great father to me, still finding time to be with me even though he was in the Army and I did not live with him."
Because of his father’s influence, Hester recently enlisted in the Army as an Infantryman, and after graduating high school and completing his service contract, plans to enroll in the Green-to-Gold program and apply for an Army ROTC scholarship at North Georgia College, majoring in criminal justice, and later, commissioning as an officer in the infantry.
"Since freshman year, it had always been my plan to enlist in the Army," Hester said. "But after joining JROTC, it influenced my decision to attend college, finish a degree, and commission as an officer."
One thing most people assume is that JROTC is a recruitment tool for the U.S. Army. Cadets attending JLAB refuted the claim.
"JROTC is not just about the military, or about teaching you history and wars," said Cadet 2nd Lt. Kailey Perry, 16, an incoming junior at Tahlequah High School in Tahlequah, Okla.
Adding, "JROTC is like a family. Everyone cares about how you’re doing. Two years ago, I could not even look people in the eye, or even talk to anybody I didn’t already know, but now my confidence and leadership skills have grown tenfold."
In JROTC, cadets tend to arrive to school early, spend time with each other during lunch, and stay late after school, according to 1st Sgt. Steven R. Walker, USA, Ret., the assistant Army instructor at Perry’s school.
"These kids are looking for discipline," said Walker. "We’re like a big family unit. Our cadets get along well with each other, they don’t harass each other, and they even tutor and mentor each other. It’s unbelievable."
Both Hester and Heaton agree that JROTC builds a special kind of camaraderie like no other campus organization.
"JROTC has influenced my choice of college," Heaton said, "It showed me life options in the service, helped build my leadership skills, and given me some incredible life experiences that I can’t compare to anything else."
Expectations high for top cadets
Their faces might be different, but the expectation of the 34th class of George C. Marshall award winners remains the same: Effectively lead soldiers.
The annual event honoring the top cadets in each of Cadet Command’s 273 programs got under way in mid-April on the campus of the Virginia Military Institute, Lexington, Va.
At the seminar, the Army’s top brass encouraged the soon-to-be second lieutenants to take up the challenge of leading the Army through an anticipated prolonged period of change.
"You will forever be known as a winner of the George C. Marshall Award," Gen. Martin Dempsey, then Army chief of staff, said.
Adding, "I hope that makes you feel empowered, but that you feel some sense of burden. … We’re going to ask a lot of you, and you’re going to be up to the challenge."
The Marshall event – put on by the George C. Marshall Foundation and U.S. Army Cadet Command – has honored nearly 10,000 Army ROTC cadets since it began in 1967. What separates these cadets from their peers through the years is they get opportunities few officers ever will receive.
They interact with proven leadership. They get to learn in-depth about issues that will shape their careers. And, they get to network with other cadets who have established themselves as the sort of leaders who will successfully guide their platoons in defense of the nation.
During the two-day conference, participants are heralded for their potential. But the praise comes with a dose of reality: Their job won’t be easy.
Organizers design the event around the principals of leadership practiced by the late George C. Marshall, a former general of the Army, U.S. secretary of state and Nobel Prize winner.
For cadets looking for someone to emulate, they point to Marshall as the prime example.
Maj. Gen. Mark McDonald, Cadet Command’s commanding general, applauded the Marshall winners on their selections. The exposure they receive during the seminar to challenging discussions and to the senior leadership will prove an invaluable resource once they are commissioned.
"I know your quality, and I know you had other options besides military service," McDonald said. "You represent the strength of our nation, and you will keep our Army strong."
The chairman for this year’s event was retired Gen. Richard Cody, a former vice chief of staff of the Army. The fact that these cadets have opted to serve in the military speaks to their character, he said.
"You have chosen a career that will be rewarding to you and the 310 million Americans you serve," Cody said.
Before he was sworn in as the 37th Army chief of staff the week before the seminar, Dempsey spent time soliciting advice from a number of people. The recommendation one senior civilian offered was that he get a wristband that reads: "What would Marshall do?"
Marshall’s leadership in and out of uniform represents the sort of lifelong commitment to values and service all cadets should practice, Dempsey said.
Because cadets are bombarded with information throughout the seminar, Dempsey said he realizes the event will be a blur to most. If they remember anything, he asked that they not just understand the "Profession of Arms," but learn to "feel" it.
He also encouraged participants to dedicate themselves to lifelong learning and to avoid simply becoming satisfied with their job.
"Master it," Dempsey said. "You’re about to give this nation a great gift – leading it."
LDAC: Not your father’s summer camp
Lt. Gen. Ted Stroup, USA, Ret.
Association of the United States Army
More than 6,340 Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps Cadets were trained and tested this summer at the Leader Development and Assessment Course (LDAC) for their fitness to join the future United States Army officer corps and lead American soldiers.
Also known as Operation Warrior Forge, the advanced leadership course is held every summer at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.
It is the single point of common training and assessment for cadets from across the country who hope to become lieutenants through U.S. Army Cadet Command’s ROTC program.
About 270 second lieutenants were commissioned upon completing LDAC this summer. The others who successfully completed the assessment will return to their colleges and universities to finish the academic requirements for a degree and an Army commission.
The past few years at LDAC have seen Cadet Command shifting toward a training model that embraces the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command’s common teaching scenario and replicates the contemporary operating environment, officials said.
"During the 29 days cadets are being trained and assessed at LDAC, they’re required to think on their feet," Joel Manning, chief of Warrior Forge plans, said.
The course follows a familiar approach – it employs reception, staging, onward movement, and integration, along with a redeployment and demobilization phase.
Individual training over the first days of Warrior Forge, such as the Army Physical Fitness Test, first aid and land navigation, provide opportunities for leadership experiences and lead to collective training such as maneuver and squad tactical exercises.
Additionally, cultural awareness training exposes cadets to cultural factors: ethical dilemmas, politics, religion, economics, and their potential impact on military operations and mission accomplishment.
Through leadership discussions, modern technology and hands-on familiarization, cadets gain an understanding of leadership on the modern battlefield and training simulations that are available to help them prepare for modern battle.
All LDAC training leads to the culminating tactical exercise that provides a unique opportunity for cadets to engage in basic squad and section level maneuver doctrine and gives Cadet Command cadre a chance to observe and assess cadets’ leadership potential, Manning said.
This year, more than 3,000 cadre and staff members conducted and supported the course – soldiers and civilians from active and reserve Army components as well as contracted agencies.
Maj. Gen. Mark McDonald, commander of Cadet Command, addressed cadets during graduation ceremonies.
"Nothing happens by accident," McDonald said. "Hard work got all of you out here today.
Adding, "You stand as future leaders of the Army. This is just the beginning. We have prepared you for a lifetime of leadership."
Cadet James Bogensberger from Gonzaga University echoed the sense of progress and accomplishment in McDonald’s words.
"This is an important milestone in our military career," Bogensberger said. "It was great getting to know new people and learning so much more about the military. You really do not feel set … until you complete LDAC."
(Editor’s note: Lt. Gen. Stroup visited Operation Warrior Forge in July. Jeremy O’Bryan, Public Affairs Office, U.S. Army Cadet Command, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, assisted in the interviews and preparation of this article.)
The social network: Utilizing Internet communication will help cadets become ‘better leaders’
As often happens, Cadet Shane Sinda was named the Web master of his battalion because he was "the computer guy."
The senior computer networking systems major at Michigan Technological University found himself in charge of revamping his battalion’s website, which he described as "in shambles," and setting up a Facebook page.
But the hours of work he put into the additional duty soon paid off, when he was talking to some freshmen who walked up to him and said the way they found his school’s ROTC unit was through the website.
"It was just an eye-opener that this really works," Sinda said during a break at the George C. Marshall Awards and Leadership Seminar on the campus of Washington and Lee University.
That experience encouraged Sinda to attend a roundtable session titled "Social Media: Relevance to our Army and Responsibility of our Army."
Here the cadets heared from an Army officer who has worked for the last nine months at search giant Google Inc. as part of an Army program that partners active duty officers with industry.
"It’s not going to make you a good leader," Maj. Roger Cabiness said, "but it will help make you a better leader."
Cabiness encouraged the cadets, who will soon commission as second lieutenants, to take the initiative when they get their first platoon and tap in to technology to enhance communication with their soldiers.
He gave the cadets a brief overview of social media’s short history, discussed some of the current trends of users’ habits and warned them that change is coming even to the platforms that now dominate the industry.
"It’s not just Facebook, it’s not just Twitter," Cabiness said, referring to the two dominant social media venues today.
Cabiness discussed some uses of social media at the brigade and company levels, and encouraged the future lieutenants to take on such a task if their first duty assignments lack these communications tools.
But, he said, they shouldn’t let computers supplant tried and true ways.
"Do not lose that human interaction," he said.
Cadets took away several lessons from the session that they planned to apply once they returned to campus.
"It really made sense when he said to first determine ‘What are you trying to say and who are you trying to reach,’" Adam Obregon, a cadet from the University of the Incarnate Word, said.
"It made sense, what he said about breaking it down, even to the platoon level," Mark Barreras, a Texas A&M University cadet, said after the session.
Cabiness also told the cadets they would be the resident experts among the officers in their first assignments, due mostly to the fact they would be the youngest, and it would be their jobs to educate older senior leaders.
He also warned them that some day, they would be the older generation and as younger officers cycled under their command, they should keep an open mind.
"There will always be that generational gap," Cabiness said.