The U.S. Army Junior ROTC is the best-kept secret in the Army. Unfortunately, being the best-kept secret is not always a good thing, because most soldiers are not aware of this amazing post-service job opportunity.
There were 349 vacancies in Army JROTC programs worldwide as of late October. JROTC needs you, and JROTC cadets need you. As you contemplate what your well-earned retirement from the Army looks like, ask yourself a simple question: “Where can I make more of a difference than being a teacher?”
Simple Goal, Mission
My goal as a leader in the Army at every level was simple: Make a difference every day, leave the organization better than I found it and model a well-balanced lifestyle. Those fundamentals still guide me today as a Senior Army Instructor for a JROTC program at a high school in Waynesville, Missouri. You can continue to serve and do this in retirement as an Army JROTC instructor.
The JROTC mission is simple: “To motivate young people to be better citizens.” JROTC is not an Army recruiting program. It is an Army-funded program, but recruiting is not the purpose. Helping high school students be the best person, athlete, scholar and leader they can be is why JROTC exists, regardless of students’ chosen path in life.
While many cadets do enlist in the military or attend a commissioning program, that is not JROTC’s main effort. In Waynesville, our primary measure of success is how cadets compare to the rest of the high school population in terms of GPA, ACT scores, attendance rates and graduation rates. Our cadets consistently exceed high school averages in those areas.
JROTC is one of the largest character development and citizenship programs for youth in the world, according to the U.S. Army JROTC website. It was created as part of the National Defense Act of 1916, which established programs at both public and private educational institutions. Congress further expanded the program to all the military services in 1964.
Army JROTC operates in more than 1,700 public and private high schools, military institutions and correctional centers throughout the U.S. and overseas. Approximately 40% of JROTC programs are in inner-city schools, serving a student population of 50% minorities. Female cadets make up 40% of the cadet population.
As JROTC cadets progress through the program, they gain experience and have opportunities to lead other cadets.
The JROTC curriculum is first-class. It is provided in such depth and detail that it can make other teachers jealous. All the required curriculum resources are provided and updated regularly by the U.S. Army Cadet Command.
The curriculum covers four full years and includes plug-and-play electives. Topics include JROTC basic required knowledge, personal management, health and wellness, physical fitness, leadership, management, project planning and service learning, to name a few.
All required materials, resources and supplies are provided by the Army via Cadet Command. These include uniforms and equipment. Cadets are issued a modified Army Service Uniform with a gray shirt and gray beret; students must wear the uniform once a week. The Army Combat Uniform and related items are provided for special teams and summer camp as required. There is no cost to any student. Instructors typically wear the Class B uniform during the duty day unless Class A, the Army Combat Uniform or the Army Physical Fitness Uniform is required.
JROTC consists of nearly 4,000 instructors who are retired from active duty or the reserve component.
On Your Way
To become a JROTC instructor, someone must be either a retired NCO in grades E-6 through E-9, or a retired warrant officer or retired commissioned officer in grades W-1 through W-5 or O-3 through O-6. Retirees can be from the active-duty Army, the U.S. Army Reserve or the Army National Guard. Branch or MOS does not matter.
Anyone interested in applying to become a JROTC instructor can and should start working on the process before retirement.
Instructors must have a bachelor’s degree to hold a Senior Army Instructor (SAI) position, which is the department chair and chief instructor of the JROTC unit. Assistant Instructors (AIs) must have an associate degree within five years after their initial hiring. Each high school program has at least one SAI and one AI. Larger programs can have additional AIs based on cadet population.
Instructors are trained and certified by the Cadet Command JROTC Instructor Management Division. Background checks are also required.
Local school districts decide who to hire to fill JROTC vacancies, just like they decide any other school district vacancy. State licensing and certification requirements vary by state.
JROTC instructor pay is called Minimum Instructor Pay (MIP). MIP is the difference between official retired pay, as reported by the Defense Finance and Accounting Service, and active-duty pay and allowances (excluding hazardous duty and special pays) that a JROTC instructor would receive if ordered to active duty. The Army reimburses the local school district for 50% of an instructor’s MIP.
Students, Not Soldiers
When it comes to transitioning to Army JROTC, remember, these are high school students, not soldiers. That does not mean high standards should be changed. It means things need to be kept in perspective.
Instructors will be coming from being a leader, possibly a senior leader, to being a front-line worker. As a teacher, all instructors report directly to the principal. Even though the SAI has administrative and logistics responsibilities, all instructors are individual teachers. One must be willing to do this work, unlike in the Army, where there are support personnel. Instructors have to equally divide and conquer all the many additional support, administrative and logistical tasks.
Class time is limited and the curriculum is robust, so time must be used wisely. Class time is the most precious commodity. Instructors are tied to the bell schedule from the first bell to the last. The key to being a successful classroom teacher is using the limited time given to the maximum extent possible.
Classroom management is also key to success, sanity and quality of life. The key to classroom management is simple: mutual respect. Instructors will find out early that when they get frustrated for any reason, if they become confrontational with students, students will become confrontational right back. Relax.
Instructors should get to know their cadets, establish and consistently enforce standards, and treat everyone with dignity and respect. Then, classroom management will take care of itself.
Finally, while the hours in the classroom are better than when we were in the Army, there are still a lot of extra hours. The difference between a program and a good program is the effort made outside of the classroom. During most school years, half or more of weekend time involves JROTC events, activities and competitions.
If you really want to make a difference, every day, look no further than Army JROTC. There’s no better place to make a difference than in the classroom. JROTC is the best of both worlds: being a soldier and being a teacher.
* * *
Col. Charles Williams, U.S. Army retired, is the Senior Army Instructor for the Waynesville (Missouri) High School Junior ROTC program. He enlisted in the Army as a military policeman in 1980 and was commissioned as an armor officer through Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, Georgia, in 1985, retiring in January 2013. He served at every level of command from platoon leader to brigade commander and deployed to Grenada, Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo and Iraq. He is pursuing a doctorate in leadership from the University of Central Missouri.