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For 25 years, program has been preparing young people for life beyond high school

July 10, 2019
Since 1994, the Floyd Central Navy Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps program has been preparing young men and women for the world beyond high school, whether it be a stint in the military, furthering their education in college or going straight into the workforce.

To do that, the program holds fast to three core values: honor, courage and commitment. Defined in simple terms, honor is doing the right thing when nobody is looking, courage is doing the right thing when everybody is looking, and commitment is doing the right thing because you said you would and your word is gold.

"We hold people accountable for the little things, and, hopefully, the big things don't crop up," said Senior Chief Mike Beal, the Naval Science Instructor for the NJROTC program.

For Beal, who has been with the program since a year after it started, and Chief Warrant Officer Michael (Gunner) Epperson, who, as the Senior Naval Science Instructor, has overseen the program since 2013, that means making sure cadets are excelling in the classroom.

"Parents really appreciate that, because it gives them another voice in their kid's life that says, 'Hey, your grades matter,'" Beal said. "And they really do matter. You could be an A student here, but, if you're an F student over there in the other building, then you're not doing yourself any good."

To serve in a leadership role, cadets must be passing all of their classes, Beal said, adding that, at the end of each grading period, cadets must stand before Beal and Epperson to give an account for their grades.

"We do that, because when we put them in front of cadets, we put them up there and say, 'We want you to be like them,'" he said. "If their grades are tanked or their discipline is terrible outside of class, then that does us no good as a program. It does them no good for their credibility. So, we protect them and we protect the program by holding them accountable."

However, successful accountability means treating the cadets with respect, Beal said.

"They earn everything they get around here. Nothing is given to anybody," he said. "They will earn leadership positions."

Beal added the cadets appreciate he and Epperson rewarding them based on merit, not some sort of popularity contest.

"There are a lot of popularity contests out there they see, and they don't want to be a part of it. They don't want anything to do with it," he said. "Teenagers will flee the moment they smell hypocrisy."

Epperson said it is amazing to see the growth of cadets in the program, which also includes students from Lanesville High School.

Beal added that the transformation of cadets from shy students to outgoing seniors is rewarding, calling Jessica Christensen, who joined the NJROTC program during her sophomore year, a prime example.

"I feel like it really broke me out of my shell," Christensen, who graduated in June, said.

Christensen plans on enlisting in the Air Force so she can get her college tuition paid, noting she wants to study criminal justice with a long-term goal of following in the footsteps of her uncle and going to work for the Central Intelligence Agency.

While the majority of the program's cadets don't go on to join the military, Jack Gill, a four-year NJROTC member who served as the program's Cadet Commanding Officer of the program during the spring semester, is another who will.

Joining the Marines, Gill, who also graduated in June, ships out for boot camp on July 22. After completing his training, he plans on being a military police officer with the Marine Reserves stationed in Lexington, Ky., so he can study mechanical engineering at the University of Kentucky.

"That should put me on the path to be commissioned as a second lieutenant or an officer in the Marine Corps," Gill said, adding he hopes eventually to fly a helicopter as an aviation officer.

As part of the NJROTC program, cadets can compete in various disciplines, including color guard, drill and rifle. Gill excelled as a member of the rifle team, not only winning the individual state championship for air rifle in the sporter division this past year, but setting state records for all three positions: prone, kneeling and standing. The competition not only featured JROTC programs but rifle teams from high schools and 4-H.

Gill said he benefited much from being in the NJROTC program and encouraged students at Floyd Central and Lanesville considering joining to do so.

"I think I definitely gained from it," Gill said, explaining his time as a leader helped instill confidence and professionalism.

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