Upon first learning about the Navy Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (NJROTC) as a junior high school student, Senior Chief Damage Controlman Andrae Sutherland knew he wanted to be part of it.
Sutherland, a Recruit Division Commander (RDC), was among 60 Recruit Training Command (RTC) Sailors who volunteered at the NJROTC Area 3 West Regional Academic, Athletic and Drill Competition, Feb. 26 at Zion-Benton Township High School.
NJROTC cadets participate in extra-curricular activities designed to stimulate learning with hands-on experiences to reinforce the program’s curriculum. Cadet extra-curricular activities include community service projects, drill competitions, academic competitions, visits to naval installations, and Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) training. Retired military members instruct the program at accredited secondary schools.
“I'm passionate about molding young minds and the future of our Navy,” said Sutherland, who serves as the RTC Volunteer Coordinator. “I'm looking to become an instructor after I’ve retired.”
More than 25 RTC staff, RDCs, instructors and division officers joined Sutherland as volunteer judges during the second day of the event, which included drill and uniform inspection.
“We do a uniform inspection and that's where a lot of the RDCs play a key part,” Sutherland said. “There is a tight timeline and you’re inspecting groups of 20 to 40 cadets. The uniform inspection is similar to what the recruits experience at RTC.”
While unable to join NJROTC as a high school student, Sutherland jumped at the chance to volunteer during his first tour as an RDC in 2010. He renewed his commitment when he returned for a second tour in 2018. Connecting with the cadets on a personal level holds deep meaning for Sutherland.
“We get to interact with them and talk to them about their future,” Sutherland said. “The program emphasizes education – that’s a big focus. There are so many scholarship opportunities for them and it is very competitive. If they decide to go to college, or join the Navy, or both, they have a lot of tools to become a better student or Sailor or officer.”
RTC’s strong turnout didn’t surprise Sutherland.
“It’s an example of how we are involved in our communities,” he said. “The RDCs and instructors do like to look sharp and be out there involved with the community. We're involved with our communities and we want to get to know our community members better. These interactions place a positive spotlight on RTC and the Navy.”
Wheeling (Illinois) High School won the 10-team competition, which included eight events. Each competing unit was judged on academic testing, drill events (color guard, armed and unarmed individual drill routine, and an unnamed exhibition), personnel inspection, and physical fitness (curl-ups, push-ups and shuttle-run relay).
Being a judge provides additional opportunities for RTC staff, especially the RDCs, to use drill knowledge and mentoring skills.
“These men and women are amazing,” said retired Navy commander Steve Schulte, Senior Navy Science Instructor of the Zion NJROTC unit. “Not only are they experts in evaluating drill events, but they also serve as inspiring role models for our NJROTC cadets. We cannot thank them enough for volunteering to spend most of their weekend to give our cadets a meaningful experience.”
RTC staff members have been volunteering at the NJROTC event for more than 15 years and RTC hosted the event before the coronavirus pandemic.
Approximately 60 percent of NJROTC cadet graduating seniors continue to higher education. Many choose to enlist in the Navy and those with multiple years of NJROTC experience are eligible to receive advanced promotion.
Construction Electrician 2nd Class Derek Drummond, an RDC ‘C School’ instructor, said NJROTC cadets frequently stand out at the Navy’s only boot camp and often earn recruit leadership roles.
“NJROTC is an awesome experience,” Drummond said. “It builds upon the mentorship that we do here at RTC. The recruits who have been (NJROTC) cadets have had drill instruction and have a strong mind-set. You can spot the leadership. They’re locked in and prepared. They’re ready to strive and hit the ground running when they step off that bus.”
Boot camp training includes physical fitness, seamanship, firearms, firefighting and shipboard damage control along with lessons in Navy heritage and core values, teamwork and discipline. About 40,000 recruits graduate annually from RTC and begin their Navy careers.
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