FPHS JROTC Wildcat Battalion
As of 12 July 2023
As the Senior Army Instructor for Fort Payne High School “Wildcat Battalion” Army Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC), I have only one critical mission: “to motivate young people to be better citizens.” Working at FPHS since January 2013, I am now approaching the start of my 11th year as a teacher. My youngest son graduated from the program in 2015.
Sergeant First Class (SFC) Joseph Maks has now served 8 years as Army Instructor. SFC Maks and his family moved to Fort Payne from Germany where he retired after 20 years of military service with the Military Police. His son graduated from the program in 2017.
While JROTC certainly teaches and requires military-style discipline, cadets are not actively recruited to the military by the Army Instructors, there is no combat training, and high school cadets have no military obligation.
All JROTC cadets are required to wear the blue Army Service Uniform (ASU) each Wednesday in addition to their normal classroom activities. The care, maintenance, cleaning, and proper wear of the ASU is the cadet’s responsibility. The uniform must be worn all day Wednesday and each cadet will stand an inspection for a significant portion of their weekly grade. The JROTC course of study involves teaching the cadets to be better citizens while learning to appreciate the ethical values and principles that underline good citizenship.
The School Board, Superintendent, and Principal understand the value of the JROTC program and fully support our mission. The JROTC curriculum allows cadets to develop leadership skills and potential while working together with others to accomplish a common goal. Cadets earn credit for Physical Education and for Career Preparedness through the JROTC curriculum as well.
Parents of our cadets are invited to attend all of our events and a special parents' night briefing each semester. Our parent-sponsored JROTC Cadet Booster Club is extremely active in supporting the battalion and our cadets providing chaperones, helping with service activities, and coordinating parent support to events like home football game parking. Parents like that we do not ask for fees nor for cadets to sell anything as we conduct all of our fundraising through parking at the games and at the VFW Fall and Spring Fairs.
The more senior cadets earn rank as they learn to think logically and to communicate effectively with others, both orally and in writing. The cadets also learn to appreciate the importance of physical fitness in maintaining good health. The JROTC program helps students understand and appreciate the importance of high school graduation and continued education.
As cadets progress through the four-year program and develop their leadership skills, they take on more responsibility. Beginning with the rank of cadet sergeant as a squad leader, responsible for the instruction and well-being of only a handful of fellow cadets, they can advance through the ranks. Junior and senior cadets become cadet captain company commanders, senior non-commissioned officers, and even the cadet lieutenant colonel battalion commander responsible for the whole Corps of Cadets.
Cadets teach classes to their subordinates including drill and ceremonies, and often actually take over the classroom subjects as they become proficient in the tasks being taught. Student-led electives include such topics as map reading, high ropes course, advanced citizenship, and American history. There is also a cadet battalion staff that is responsible for running everything in the Corps of Cadets from personnel actions and training schedules to security measures and supply issues.
There are sixteen cadet ranks and over twenty national-level awards available to JROTC cadets, the highest of which are the Medal of Heroism, the Superior Cadet Decoration, and the Legion of Valor Bronze Cross for Achievement. Cadets may also earn Marksmanship Qualification Badges, special activity arcs, and ribbons for wear on their ASUs. There are thirty-seven ribbons for cadets to earn. The order of ribbon precedence goes to the top ten ribbons which are all related to academics. The N-1-1 Distinguished Cadet Ribbon is awarded annually to one cadet who exhibits the highest degree of excellence in academics.
The Annual Awards and Promotions Night is a very special event each school year. The ceremony is typically held at the DeKalb Theater or the Fort Payne City Hall Auditorium and there are more than 25 national-level awards presented. Local organizations on-hand to present awards include Sons of the American Revolution, Daughters of the American Revolution, United States Daughters of the War of 1812, Sons of Confederate Veterans, Military Order of World Wars, Military Order of the Purple Heart, Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion, American Veterans, the Marine Corps League, Redstone Arsenal Sergeants Major Association, the Association of the United States Army, US Army Recruiting Command, Celebrate Freedom Foundation, Military Pilots Association of the Daedalians, Scottish Rites of Freemasonry, Northeast Alabama Screaming Eagles, Special Forces Association, and the National Sojourners.
JROTC sponsors a number of exciting teams including varsity and junior varsity 3-Position Air Rifle; drill, both regulation and exhibition; academics; Cyber Patriot cyber security team: color guard; and physical training. Teams compete in varsity athletic and academic competitions with other schools across the state of Alabama and nationally. Careers in aviation and drone pilots are also open for consideration in JROTC.
The 3-position air rifle team consistently competes in the Alabama state championship and in the American Legion Alabama Commander's Cup 3x20 match. Each year the team traditionally qualifies for the JROTC Service Southeast Regionals, and the JROTC National Championship. The team also shoots to qualify for the Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP) Southeast Regionals and a chance to earn a trip to the CMP Nationals and Junior Olympics held in Camp Perry, Port Clinton, Ohio. The American Legion National Championship is held annually at the US Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Other extracurricular activities of the program include service learning projects; parades; helping the school and community; fund-raising by parking at home football games and for the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) spring and fall fairs; Veteran’s Day, Pearl Harbor Day, and Memorial Day programs; and cadet enhancement trips. The cadets have taken enhancement trips to the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum, Tennessee Aquarium, the Civil War Reenactment at Bridgeport, the Huntsville Space and Rocket Center, the Berman Museum and Natural History Museum in Anniston, Ruby Falls, Cathedral Cavers, the Veteran’s Museum in Huntsville, and Tigers for Tomorrow. Ten select cadets also participate in a week-long JROTC Cadet Leadership Challenge (JCLC) “Summer Camp” at various locations around the state.
After 28 years of military service, in a wide variety of jobs all over the world, I find this job at Fort Payne High School to be the absolute best I’ve ever experienced. Even though I face a daily commute between Fort Payne and my home in Bridgeport, I love it because of the support we enjoy in both communities and in the school. I also love it because of the ability I have every day to interact with a professional faculty and staff and some really great kids who have tons of potential as future leaders of our great nation. Nearly ten hours a day and several weekends a month, seems a high price to pay, and sometimes it’s easy to get a little frustrated with the cadets, but I look forward to every day and every hour I get to spend teaching and mentoring cadets and students.
If you have any questions or suggestions or just wish to help out, please feel free to contact me or SFC Maks at 256-845-3281 or by email at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to getting to know you and working with you.
JOHN M. WALKER
US Army, Retired
Senior Army Instructor