One message stands front and center when viewing the Army Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps page on Douglas High School’s web page. The Tiger Battalion’s stated mission is “To motivate young people to be better citizens.”
Sgt. Maj. Arthur L. Walker is quick to dispel perception that the purpose is solely to recruit students into the military. There is much more to the story than that.
“What we try to do is teach discipline, responsibility, do your homework, get it in on time, respect the teacher,” said Walker, who came to Douglas as an instructor in 2008, the second year of the program’s existence. “We’re not here to put them in the military. A lot of people think ROTC is military basic training. We don’t train followers here, we train leaders.”
Enrollment in JROTC is open to students from ninth through 12th grades, offering a diverse JROTC curriculum that focuses on leadership and accountability as a model to help cadet’s grow, retired Maj. Bud Ford acknowledged.
Ford, who took over as director of the Douglas program in July after five previous years with JROTC and 22 years of service in the Army, echoed Walker’s words about training leaders.
“You might be a private here, but you’ll learn how to be a leader,” Ford said.
The Douglas Cadet Battalion is active in the community through activities and community service, he added. For example, the program conducts color guard events for various community and local agencies.
The unit also conducted a canned food drive as its annual Service Learning Project, Ford pointed out, an event in mid-October at the Gardnerville Walmart store that netted 1,200 pounds of canned goods and approximately $200 in cash donations. The food and cash was donated to the Carson Valley Community Food Closet for use in the community, he added.
Furthermore, the Douglas Cadet Battalion earned a judge’s award for first-place in the School Marching Unit category during the Nevada Day Parade in Carson City and also marched in the Reno Veteran’s Day Parade. Walker pointed out the Tiger Battalion has received one other elite distinction.
“This is an honor unit with distinction, the top of the line,” he said. “Only 20 percent of the schools in the entire ROTC receive honor unit of distinction. It’s a gold star all the kids wear ... and we have the gold star.”
That gold star is pretty special, if you ask the cadets.
“It is a very big deal,” said Battalion Commander Ashleigh Ota.
Ota is a senior who started with the program her ninth grade year and advanced through the ranks to become the program’s lead cadet officer. She carries a 4.5 grade point average and plans to attend college — possibly to pursue a career as either a psychologist or forensic investigator — and is looking at the Air Force after graduating from college.
“I never thought I’d be in the military as a career,” Ota said. “This (JROTC) has meant a lot to me. It gave me the confidence to be a leader. I have a lot of memories with the cadets here.”
There is another attraction, according to senior Cameron Fricke, who started with the program as a ninth grade student. He plans to join the Nevada Army National Guard after high school.
“I was part of the very first ninth grade Echo Class, the after school class, we had here,” Fricke said. “I immediately fell in love. What this program’s done for me, it’s given me another family. What I got out of it was not just friends, it was just people who understand what I want to do because I want to go into the military.”
The leadership training begins with the youngest of the cadets, Walker added. At present, ninth grade students are transported from Carson Valley and Pau-Wa-Lu middle schools to participate after their regular classes end in the afternoon.
“Those ninth graders have a company commander,” Walker said. “She’s a ninth grader in charge of 26 people. And what they do, good or bad, is on her. It’s not on her as a person, but on taking the leadership position.
“They have to want to participate, they have to want to keep their grades up, they have to want to wear a uniform, they have to want to get their hair cut,” he added. “They learn how to deal with situations. We teach them, don’t be a bully — walk away if you have to — and be proud of what you’re doing. If you’re doing something, do the best you can.”
Brandon Stewart, another senior, plans to join the Navy after he graduates on May 30. Stewart, Fricke and Ota represented Douglas at the recent state rifle championships held at the University of Nevada, Reno.
“I’m looking at the Navy right now,” Stewart said. “I’d like to work on flight decks, making sure the weapons are all good to go on the planes and getting them off the ground. I do enjoy hard work.”
The Army turned into a career for both of the instructors at Douglas.
Ford grew up in Oregon, attended Troy University in Alabama and did his graduate work at Webster University. After retiring from active duty, he accepted a position as a JROTC instructor in North Carolina.
“I wanted to be closer to home (Oregon), so I jumped at the opportunity when this opening came up,” Ford said. “It’s been a great move, too. I love it here.”
Walker, a native of Marlin, Texas, enlisted in October 1961, spent two years in Vietnam, retired on Sept. 1, 1993, and the next day began his new career with ROTC.
“I started teaching the next day,” he said, adding with a laugh. “I haven’t had a break since I was 17. I’m due.”
Walker, 71, came to Douglas after previous high school engagements in Tacoma, Wash., and in Southern California. This is his final stop, though, since he is retiring on June 30.
“I’ve been in uniform for 52 years,” Walker said, flashing a wide grin. “I could probably go another five years, but my wife said, ‘It’s time to stop.’ So I said, ‘Yes general.’”
He cannot think of a better way to go out than the Tiger Battalion.
“Douglas High School is the best school I’ve been at in the 20 years,” Walker said. “I couldn’t ask for a better school to go out on. The principal, Mr. (Marty) Swisher, Dave Pyle (vice-principal), all the secretaries and counselors, they back us 100 percent. They’re top of the line.”