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Woodbury High School Junior ROTC students attend an awards ceremony at the school. Bulletin photo by Amber Kispert-Smith

Atten hut: Woodbury's junior ROTC program producing leaders

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Woodbury High School's Air Force Junior ROTC program is grooming both the soldiers, and the citizens, of tomorrow.

"The actual focus of the program is just to develop citizens of character," said Major Thom Petzold, the program leader. "We're not here to recruit kids into the Air Force; we're here just to teach them how to be better citizens."

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The WHS Junior ROTC program held its annual award ceremony on May 17.

A history of leadership

The program first started in 1989 and WHS was one of the first schools in the state to activate an Air Force Junior ROTC program.

Today there are a total of four Air Force Junior ROTC programs in Minnesota, Petzold said, all of which are in the Twin Cities. Park High School is among them.

Currently the WHS Junior ROTC program has about 50 students.

Petzold said students enroll in the Junior ROTC program for a variety of reasons. Some have an interest in a career in the military. For others, the program simply looks good on college and job applications. Other students join to develop leadership skills.

"A lot of times too, kids just need a place to belong," he said. "They find that they fit in here."

The WHS Junior ROTC program is divided into three core areas - academics, leadership and physical fitness.

On the academics side, students take some sort of academic class, usually something related to science, during the week.

Examples of class offerings are: science of flight, space exploration and global cultural studies.

On the leadership side, students learn the necessary skills to become effective leaders, Petzold said, such as communications, leadership skills, time management, study skills, attention to detail and pride in their accomplishments.

"A lot of the program is really centered around leadership," Petzold said. "We teach them anything they can use to really be that better citizen."

On the physical fitness side, Petzold said the curriculum is similar to that of a gym class but it also teaches students how to have a healthy lifestyle.

Junior ROTC is an elective class that meets every day.

In addition to the class curriculum, students in the Junior ROTC program also participate in various color guard events throughout the year, are in charge of the annual Veterans Day program at the school and participate in drill and color guard competitions.

This year, students also took a class trip to a military base in South Dakota and went for a ride on C-130 airplane where they went to Duluth, Camp Ripley, Minn., and then back to Minneapolis.

Developing strong citizenship

Petzold said Junior ROTC has a wide variety of benefits to a student's personal and professional life.

"We're trying to teach them skills for life," he said.

Kathy Cotto, who is another of the teachers in the Junior ROTC program, said Junior ROTC can also add greatly to students finding their path in life.

"It's how students find their passions," she said.

Additionally, Cotto said Junior ROTC will help students learn how to deal with people better.

"We're not all the same," she said.

Petzold said Junior ROTC is not only beneficial to students as individuals, but it is a benefit to society.

"If you want to be a solid country or a good community you have to have people that are interested in being good citizens," he said. "Without that, the community's not going to do well."

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Amber Kispert-Smith
Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.
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