By Christian P. Hodge, HQ AFJROTC Public Affairs
/ Published December 29, 2020
Chief Master Sgt. Brent Sheehan, Air Force Junior ROTC Superintendent, observes cadets performing drill during a Nov. 13 visit to Prattville High School, Prattville, AL, AFJROTC Unit AL-951. Despite COVID-19 constraints, AFJROTC cadets across the nation and around the world are still learning, growing and finding innovative ways to stay connected with their units and teammates.
Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps cadets continue to strive and thrive across the nation and around the word despite ever-changing coronavirus constraints.
This is because, as one of the Air Force’s most diverse programs, operating globally in over 875 high schools with more than 120,000 students in almost 700 school districts, HQ AFJROTC staff and aerospace instructors know that flexibility is the key to airpower.
“COVID has definitely made this a challenging school year,” said Col. (Ret.) David Cohen, Senior Aerospace Instructor, FL-20041, Timber Creek High School, Orlando, FL. “Here in central Florida, we have approximately a third of our cadets in the classroom, while simultaneously teaching the remainder via distance learning. Subsequent restrictions on co-curricular activities have impacted how our cadets engage in the program.”
The cadets have been by far the most affected in the AFJROTC family by the pandemic. Cadet leaders hold meetings virtually and conduct their planning and unit business on the phone or socially-distanced when possible, but this of course brings limitations. `
“So many are in the virtual from home learning environment, they are not able to truly experience AFJROTC,” said Donald R. Bailey, HQ AFJROTC Region 3 Director. “The program is majority hands-on and many are missing out on uniform wear, drill, wellness and other hands-on activities related to curriculum.”
Also, most cadets are unable to participate in community service activities, and leadership development practices and events, curriculum in action trips, military balls and dining ins/outs.
Many cadets will be stuck in the virtual learning model for the entire school year.
However, despite all the burdens placed on AFJROTC by this global pandemic the staff, cadre, and most importantly the cadets of AFJROTC are powering through, learning and growing, while also finding innovative ways to stay connected and part of their unit teams.
“Cadet staffs have proven to be creative and have adapted to the many challenges with mixed models to include virtual learning, in class and at the hybrid where cadets come to school just for AFJROTC and remain in a virtual environment for all other classes,” Bailey said.
Regarding HQ staff, Bailey said to date he had completed more than 25 virtual unit check-ins and has been super impressed with their instructors and cadet staff.
For example, Cohen said his cadets are still doing community service, it is now just individually-based rather than as a cadet corps.
As all AFJROTC aerospace instructors are retired Air Force leaders with long and admirable careers, exercising flexibility and adapting and overcoming challenges is nothing new. Imprinting the Air Force’s can-do, innovative mentality onto their cadets is an informal part of the job.
Another unofficial part of the job concerns why most of the instructors choose this line of work in the first place.
“I think I’m safe to assume that AFJROTC instructors don’t do what they do for the money. We do it because we have a passion—a passion to develop young people and help them grow,” Cohen said. “It’s more than a career for me. My goal, every day I teach our classes, is to help pass on and develop that passion in our cadets. When they graduate and move on to whatever their lives bring them, I want them to remember the excitement and commitment I modeled for them so they can develop passions of their own.”
The objectives of JROTC are to educate and train high school cadets in citizenship, promote community service, instill responsibility, character, and self-discipline, and provide instruction in air and space fundamentals. The AFJROTC program is grounded in the Air Force core values of integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all we do. The curriculum emphasizes the Air Force heritage and traditions, the development of flight, applied flight sciences, military aerospace policies, and space exploration, according to FL-20041’s website. Also, curriculum opportunities include: academic studies, character education, life skills education, leadership opportunities, team-building experiences, intramural competition, field trips and training opportunities.
For more information on AFJROTC visit Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (af.edu).