UNION, NJ – The Union High School Army JROTC cadets are a proud group. And they have every right to be.
The unit has been ranked in the top ten percent out of 1,800 JROTC programs in the nation, achieving an Honor Unit with Distinction award. “As you can imagine, we are extremely proud of our cadets and their accomplishments,” said Senior Army Instructor Col. (Retired) Walter L. Alvarado.
Union’s JROTC (Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps) includes nationally recognized Drill and Raider Teams, who achieved second place among 1,800 schools this year. They have been named New Jersey Drill Champions 18 years in a row and have placed second in the Overall Drill Team Combined Categories nationally.
The Drill Team placed second overall in Northeast Drill and the Raiders were named Overall Champions two years in a row (2017 and 2018). Cadets placed third in the Raider National Championship in 2017 and second in the Overall Northeast group.
“Our cadets put in many hours and make many sacrifices into making our program one of the premier Army JROTC programs in the nation,” said Alvarado.
The JROTC is a cadet-led citizenship and leadership developmental program, sponsored by the U.S. Army. The program is supervised by retired Army instructors. Instructors Alvarado and 1SG (Retired) Gerald Schemel use their combined 50 years of military experience to help guide the leadership of the program.
Union High School's JROTC leadership includes: Seniors Cadet Lieutenant Colonel Francisco Estrada IV, Cadet Major Mariah Gordon, Cadet/CSM Deyton Adekoya; juniors Cadet/ISG Adnan Oudeh, Cadet/Maj Jake Randolph, Cadet/SFC Ben Brett; sophomore Cadet/SSG Izabella Ksiazek; freshman Cadet/PFC Tianah Gonzalez, and sophomore Cadet/Basic Anthony Steitz
The mission of the program is “to motivate young people to become better citizens”. According to Estrada, this includes developing and leveraging leadership potential, focusing on responsibility and accountability, sharpening communication skills, improving physical fitness, and promoting graduation from high school and developing a foundation for career development. “Drugs are not in our curriculum; not in our conversation,” said Estrada. “We live a positive life.”
The program has 104 cadets. Adekoya said cadets perform a total of 1390 community service hours. Cadets have one JROTC class daily and practice every day before or after school. “The normal day for the cadets during drill season is practice from 6:00 – 7:00 a.m,” said Alvarado. “Then school from 7:30 a.m. until 2:35 p.m. and practice again from 3:00 until 5:00, 6:00 or even 8:00 p.m.”
“But during practice, we instill the concept of teamwork as well as the importance of discipline. I often get many comments from the parents stating that ‘JROTC has transformed my son/daughter.’”
Cadets learn military customs, courtesies and traditions, the Cadet Creed, the history and importance of Veterans Day. Cadets practice conflict resolution, being a leader, and citizenship skills.The curriculum includes beret shaping and inspection, cadet challenges, prevention of sexual assault, and communication skills.
Cadet leaders are in charge of security, operations and training, logistics and supplies and public affairs and recruiting. They lead a mentorship program for Kawameeh and Burnet Middle School students. "The middle school kids leave the program being the best citizens they can be," said Adekoya.
For their Service Learning Project this year, the cadets selected, planned and executed “Operation Enduring Care”, collecting funds for donation to hurricane relief operations in Puerto Rico. The cadets exceeded their goal of $3,000 by collecting $5,507 for the immediate monetary assistance to Hurricane Maria victims.
Alvarado said, “my Army partner (First Sergeant Gerald Schemel) and I serve as instructors, teachers, coaches and mentors. It is personally and professionally satisfying to see the development of these students as they are transform from shy children to confident young leaders.”