They don't have uniforms, rifles or even their own classroom yet, but the 49 students in Lebanon High School's Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) are an enthusiastic bunch of young men and women.
The Lebanon School Board approved the JROTC program last August, and the first classes started March 20. Lebanon is the fifth school district in Oregon with a JROTC program.
"There's a large waiting list for high schools wanting to get a program," said 1st Sgt. Larry Woodham, LHS JROTC first sergeant. "The Army jumped Lebanon over 12 other schools because there's so much enthusiasm and support here."
The program's primary purpose is to teach cadets leadership and accountability.
"A lot of people think we're a recruiting tool for the military, but we'd much rather see the students continue on to college than join the military," Woodham said.
If approved by the school board at its April 7 meeting, recently retired Lt. Col. Mark Smith will join the program this fall.
"The colonel and I will be looking really hard at academics," Woodham said. "We hold their feet to the fire."
Although cadets have been in the program only a few weeks, teachers are already starting to notice a difference.
"I've seen kids who liked to squeak through the system become more disciplined," said Kim Fandino, LHS Social System teacher.
Jan Zarate, the district's director of student achievement, helped bring JROTC to Lebanon after having seeing the difference it made in
students' lives while she was teaching in the Madras School District.
"I had one girl who we didn't think would even graduate. Not only did she graduate, she went on to college. The program gave that much confidence," Zarate said.
Cadets run the program, with Woodham and Smith functioning as advisors and instructors. Squad leader and platoon leader positions rotate each week, giving students many opportunities to experience being accountable and responsible for others.
Every year the cadet staff will select and organize a community service-learning project, such as visiting a nursing home or cleaning a park.
Cadets also may participate in color guard ceremonies with organizations like the Veterans of Foreign Wars and rifle team competition.
Demilitarized M1 Garand rifles are used for drill and ceremony while the rifle team competes with Daisy Model 1853 pellet rifles.
About 10 of the cadets are females, said Woodham, they "are often the better shooters on the team."
Starting next year, students will join JROTC cadets from other schools for a week of annual training at Camp Rilea, near Seaside.
A total of 180 hours of classroom instruction are offered through JROTC, broken down into 108 core courses and 72 electives. Classes include American history, government, civics, drug and alcohol awareness and military science.
Any high school student is eligible to join JROTC, at no cost. Uniforms are provided, but must be turned in at the end of the school year.
A permanent classroom has not yet been established for JROTC training, so for now, uniforms and other equipment sits in storage as Woodham and the cadets work to get the program underway.
The district must have an annual enrollment of 100 students within three years to keep JROTC at the high school.
The district faced some difficulty in recruiting a retired officer and noncommissioned officer for the program. Woodham did not start until Feb. 1, after being lured away from the JROTC program on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in Montana.
This is Woodham's fourth JROTC assignment since retiring from the Army in 1998 after 23 years of service, including Desert Shield/Desert Storm in 1990. Woodham said he believed having to start a program from scratch - a daunting task - probably kept many instructors from applying.
Senior Cory Lewis, 16, said joining JROTC was an opportunity to gain experience before attending the University of Oregon next year, where he plans to join ROTC with an eye toward a career as Army infantry officer and Ranger. His enthusiasm and organizing skills led Woodham to select Lewis to lead the cadet corps through the rest of the year, promoting him to cadet lieutenant colonel.
"We're building it this year," Lewis said. "Next year it's going to be an awesome program."
Students who complete two-years in JROTC are eligible to enter military service with a rank of E-2 and those who complete three years enter at the rank of E-3.
Even though he encourages students to go to college, Woodham said he counsels seniors intent on enlisting to pick a specialty where the training will help them with a civilian career later on.
"We try to steer these young men and women in a direction where we say, 'look why not let the government train you in something you like, so at the end of four years if you decide to get out, you can take the training the military gave you and make $15 or $20 an hour,'" Woodham said.