WEST ORANGE, NJ - Dylan Pennell, who be entering his senior year at West Orange High School in September, had a dream. Pennell, who plans to attend Naval Academy after graduation, worked tirelessly to get a Junior ROTC program started at West Orange High School. Dylan collected signatures on petitions, lobbied the Board of Education, New Jersey and National governments to give students the opportunity to participate in a life changing program. The Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps, an exclusive Air Force sponsored program that is offered in less that 2% of all high schools in the United States, is coming to West Orange High School and will provide leadership training and aerospace science education for high school students in grades 9-12 with a goal to "Build Better Citizens for America." In addition, students will be able to earn 5 credits for participation in the program.
“This was all spearheaded by Dylan Pennell. It took us three years on the Junior ROTC waiting list to get approval for this program and while Dylan will miss this opportunity at WOHS hundreds of others will benefit from it,” said Principal Hayden Moore. "Our students will learn individual responsibility for themselves, each other and their community while they experience leadership training and aerospace science. At WOHS we work to provide experiences inside and outside of the classroom that prepare our young people for the greater world, instill in them precepts that stay with them their entire lives and foster WOHS Pride.”
Dylan's father, a teacher at Rahway High School, first introduced his son to the Junior ROTC in seventh grade. He was allowed to participate in the Marine Junior ROTC summer program thanks to the efforts of Marine Sgt. Major Henry. “I fell in love with the program,” explained Dylan. “So I decided that I wanted West Orange to have a JROTC too. When I first petitioned the board, they said that they needed evidence of student interest. When I passed around a petition in my middle school, more people signed than I expected.”
The Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC)
is a Federal
program sponsored by the United States Armed Forces
in high schools
across the United States
. The program began in 1916 and was signed into being by Woodrow Wilson as part of the National Defense Act
., which recognized that trained officers needed to be available in times of war. In 1964, the ROTC Vitalization Act approved financial assistance and scholarships to hold and participate in the program. In 1972 the program included women. Today’s Junior ROTC programs are in place to "to instill in students in United State’s secondary educational institutions the values of citizenship, service to the United States, and personal responsibility and a sense of accomplishment.” The participants are not recruited for the military, and have no obligations.
Senior Master Sergeant Clarence "Chuck" Yon, WOHS Junior ROTC instructor said, "only 5% of students who go through ROTC go into the military. Junior ROTC is more about discipline and civic responsibility that becomes a part of them for the rest of their lives."
The Air Force Junior ROTC program will feature organized areas similar to an Air Force squadron. They will have tasks and responsibilities and earn cadet rank, applying management and leadership principles that they learn to manage their sections toward assigned goals, motivate and lead subordinates, and achieve goals, or 'missions.' They can also participate in community service, formal military events, orientation flights on military aircraft, participate in parades and be eligible for the AFJROTC National Honor Society.
"The focus of the Air Force Junior ROTC program is leadership training and civic responsibility. Students will learn about discipline, self respect, focus, pride in community and country," said WOHS instructor Major Joseph Marchesini.
Students will learn about the Air Force and air/space environments, leadership skills, earn special awards, and be a part of a team. They will receive one-on-one mentoring, develop critical thinking skills, gain self-confidence, and be exposed to many unique experiences and opportunities.
“I feel that the JROTC may take a year or two to become completely immersed in WOHS culture, but after that it should be a respectable part of our school,” said Dylan. “Since WOHS already prides itself on its ability to provide countless opportunities to students, the implementation of a JROTC is simply providing another door for students to open.”
In addition to his plans at the Naval Academy, Dylan is a straight A student at West Orange High School in Honors and AP courses; is on the WOHS Wrestling Team; is a member of the National Honor Society and more; participates each year as a HS team leader at the Relay for Life; and is an accomplished singer.