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Spring 99 Table of Contents
Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)
By Cadet Major Justin Jones, Waco, Texas
Editor's note: This article was submitted by La Tonya Richardson, Orientation & Mobility Specialist at Region 12 Education Service Center in Waco, who thought we might enjoy hearing a young man who is blind tell us about being in the Air Force Junior Reserved Officer Training Corps. After reading this story it struck me that Justin teaches us more than just what a young man with visual impairments can do, but rather how anyone, sighted or blind, must be in order to be a successful cadet and student. Justin is a graduating senior at Connally High School.
Not many people have heard of a blind, or visually impaired ROTC cadet, but you are about to read about one. I have decided to write this to tell other visually impaired or blind people about my experiences in AFJROTC. The first question that probably comes to mind is "What is AFJROTC?" It is an acronym for Air Force Junior Reserved Officer Training Corps. ROTC at the college level is where people train to become officers in the armed services. At the high school level there is Junior ROTC. The mission, or goal of a JROTC unit is to make better citizens out of cadets by teaching leadership and some of the Corps's values. I am not going to explain all of ROTC's goals and ideals but you will get the general idea.
JROTC is not a full-blown military organization, but we do wear a uniform. The uniform signifies the type of JROTC you are in, such as Army or Air Force. We have a chain of command in the organization with cadets taking many of the responsibilities. The idea behind this is that the cadets run the whole thing, with a few exceptions. My JROTC unit (Connally AFJROTC, TX935) has three levels of command. We have a Group Commander, then below him, two Squadron Commanders, and below them, six Flight Commanders. In a classroom you refer to your peers as your class, but in JROTC you refer to them as your flight. In my unit, a flight consists of about twenty people. Three flights make a squadron and two squadrons make a group. My unit is not big enough to be a wing. We do have rank (an enlisted chain of rank) and officers. In my unit, the highest enlisted rank is Cadet Chief Master Sergeant and the highest officer is a Cadet Colonel. The highest ranking officer in my unit at this time is Cadet Lieutenant Colonel.
In JROTC, you can get ribbons to decorate your uniform which, in my unit, is worn every Wednesday. At the moment I have seven different ribbons on my uniform.
The one last thing I need to cover is the extracurricular activities in JROTC: Unarmed Drill Team, Armed Drill Team and Color Guard. Unarmed Drill Teams train for competitions where they march in formation and go through complicated movements. Drilling is routine in JROTC, but not very fancy movements. Armed Drill Teams are more involved as they drill with demilitarized, impossible to fire, M1 Rifles. The rifles weigh about fourteen pounds. Members of the team learn how to perform using normal unarmed drill movements while marching. A Color Guard presents the flag at football games or other events that require the raising of the American flag. This group uses rifles, the same as the Armed Drill Team, but the rifles are not the focus of a Color Guard team at a competition. Please note that Armed Drill Teams and Color Guards are not part of everyday JROTC.
I have been in JROTC three years, and I have done and seen a lot. Currently I am a Cadet Major and Chief of Staff for my unit. I started out like everyone else, a Cadet Airman, the lowest rank, my first year. My first year I did very little other school activities, but I did contribute on Veteran's Day. There was a parade, and guess which JROTC was going to march in it? I decided to volunteer and march in the parade. Just imagine a huge column of blue uniforms marching down the street. Marching in that parade was one of the hardest things I had ever done. I was not good at marching, and I had trouble. The second year I was a lot more active. When my high school had its homecoming parade I marched with the rest of the cadets who volunteered. I was better at marching then. That time, we had a Color Guard with us. I am not sure where they were, probably in front of the rest of the cadets marching. That was not a pleasant experience, due mostly to the heat. That same year, I participated in my first and last Color Guard event. I had some training with a rifle, as I am on the Armed Drill Team, so I marched as a guard. A Color Guard consists of two people carrying flags and a left and right guard each carrying rifles. This was for a parade that the elementary school was having, and they wanted three Color Guards, so I volunteered to go along. That parade was the hardest. Try marching in formation with screaming little kids stopping in front of you, a flag blowing in your face, and a fourteen pound rifle on your right shoulder!
Later that year, I performed an armed performance at the ROTC banquet. Working with a normal team with rifles was not a good idea for me. Getting clubbed in the head by a fourteen pound rifle is not a good way to start a performance, so I became the Solo Exhibition Armed Drill person. At that ROTC function I performed in front of a bunch of people. Wearing a coat and tie was a serious inconvenience but everyone loved it; and I snagged a ribbon to add to my collection.
Last summer, I had my toughest challenge. I went to Summer Leadership School. It was like being in the military. We got up at five- thirty in the morning and lights-out was at ten o'clock. Being the only visually impaired person there was very difficult. Try getting up everyday and only having about fifty minutes to take a shower, brush your teeth, get dressed, and get your room ready for inspection. Yes, we had room inspections, and everything had to be in order and arranged a certain way. Furthermore, if your roommate screwed up his side, it would count against you. Later in the day we had personal inspections, which means that we got graded on how we wore our uniform. A day at the Summer Leadership School consisted of getting up, getting ready, going to raise the flag, eating breakfast, personal inspection, drilling for a bit, listening to several lectures on how to run a Cadet Corps, eating lunch, more lectures, other activities, retreat, dinner, sports activities, and finally to bed. That was what I did for five days in a row. We had to drill for competition and received third place. The way it worked out I was in the back right corner and the person to my left held onto my sleeve and kept me in line with the others. This worked perfectly and I received many positive comments from the instructors. I graduated from the school with the "Most Admired Cadet" award. It is a silver cup trophy that sits on my table in my room at home.
The message that I am trying to convey is that if I can go through ROTC, become an officer, go through Summer Leadership School, and obtain a high place on the chain of command, any other blind or visually impaired person can. In the future, I hope to become the first visually impaired person to join the United States Air Force and become an officer.
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