Danbury News-Times: Bethel JROTC program leads to bill proposalJune 13 2012
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U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., told Bethel High School students Monday that he plans to propose legislation next week for extra instructors to allow for the expansion of successful Junior ROTC programs, like the one at Bethel High.
The legislation would call for the federal government to pay fully for a third or fourth instructor if a program enrolls more than 15 percent of the high school's students.
Bethel enrolls 22 percent of students, and fall enrollment bumps the number to 28 percent.
"I can't tell you how proud I am of what you have done in such a short period of time for your community, for yourselves and your school, to have the most active ROTC program in the state," Murphy told the junior cadets. "Students see how accomplished you are and how much fun you have and want to join."
Bethel JROTC's Senior Naval Science Instructor Lt. Cmdr. Mark Dwinells wrote to Murphy in April for help with the popular program.
The program grew from 209 students this year to 275 students in the fall and Dwinells told Murphy he needed another instructor.
The government pays half the salaries of Bethel's two JROTC instructors and the district pays the other half, plus benefits, but could not afford another $50,000 for salary and benefits for a third instructor.
Incoming seniors Ben Milositz, 17, the battalion commander; Julia Buzak, 16, the battalion's executive officer; and Alex Nackid, 16, a company senior chief; spoke at Monday's hourlong presentation.
They told Murphy about the group's community service projects, drill competitions, activities like flying lessons and marksmanship and other skills cadets learn in the program.
Their PowerPoint presentation revealed that 47 percent of cadets are on the honor roll, 14 are members of the National Honor Society, five are captains of sports teams, and three of nine class officers are cadets.
"We need to reward what you've done here," Murphy said. "What you've done is not just grow a program but set an example for the whole school."
Murphy urged the students to rally cadets from other areas to urge their legislators to support the bill, which he expected would receive bipartisan support, but would take up to two years to be signed into law.
Nackid said the program mainly teaches leadership skills.
"I don't think the JROTC is a recruiting tool for the military. We have no pressure to join the military, but some kids do choose to join it," he said.
One cadet plans to enter West Point Academy in the fall, another is on a path to the U.S. Naval Academy and four others have enlisted in various military units.
"A lot of people like the formal structure," Nackid said. "It works very well and we get things done."
Board of Education Chairman Larry Craybas attended the presentation and praised the program.
"It teaches the kids self-respect and a sense of pride and experiences they don't get in a regular high school setting," Craybas said, like flying and sailing lessons. "They have changed the culture of the high school."
Alvaro Mesa, a 17-year-old junior, has been in the program for three years.
"I heard about it from my friends," he said. "They said it defines you and would make me a better person overall. It would lead me down a better path."