FALLBROOK – When the Fallbrook Union High School District Board and superintendent Dr. Hugo Pedroza decided to pursue the first ever JROTC program at Fallbrook High with United States Marine Corps, they knew it to be a respected leadership program for students.
They assumed it would be well received and estimated there would be, plus or minus, 75 students to sign up with the new program in the first year. The Marine Corps gives a new program three years to reach the 100 student mark for a sustainable program.
With that expectation, they were all surprised when the program enrollment reached the maximum allowed capacity of 120 students in its inaugural year. Students had to be put on a waiting list to be admitted to the program for next year.
“The response from students and the community has been outstanding and above expectation,” said Lt. Colonel William L. Wade, the senior military instructor (SMI). “By Marine Corps Order, we can only accommodate 120 students with two Marine Instructors. We are very fortunate to have brought on board an outstanding military instructor (MI) in Master Sergeant Brian Richardson (Ret). He is a 23-year Marine Corps veteran with significant combat and drill field experience. He is great with the cadets and has a long history of volunteering and mentoring.”
With the command team now complete, the new unit has hit the deck running with five full classes a day of JROTC instruction.
The Marine Corps JROTC program is a four year leadership program which teaches leadership, history, government, personal development, professionalism, physical fitness and general military subjects. As such, the program is viewed positively by potential colleges, civilian and government employers, scholarship committees, and the military. The military also gives those JROTC cadets with at least two years in the program a paygrade/promotion bump when they enter the service.
Nationwide, roughly 10 percent of students in JROTC programs are planning for a military career. Generally, cadets in the program are seeking the leadership, academics and training aspects. Perhaps because the San Diego metro area has a significant military presence and Camp Pendleton borders Fallbrook, the percentage of students interested in a military career in the program at FUHS is far above that.
In an initial informal survey of participating cadets at FUHS, 90 percent said they have interest in some form of military service – an extraordinarily high percentage.
“The quality of the cadets is outstanding,” said Richardson. “These students are highly motivated – taking leadership and academics seriously. We are into our sixth week of the school year and you can see the development, leadership and professionalism emerging in these young adults. We are proud of them. These cadets come from diverse ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds, yet you can already see the breakdown of typical teenage social cliques as they learn to act as a team and take care of one another.”
The Marine Corps is providing $150,000 worth of uniforms, equipment and instructional materials to the Fallbrook High School JROTC program. With an unexpectedly full capacity, teaching five classes a day, physical training requirements and an optional before school drill, Wade and Richardson are challenged to find the time to “set up shop.”
The SMI and MI are responsible to the school district and Training and Education Command in addition to providing the military instruction. Uniforms and other materials arriving daily require inventorying, proper storage and distribution tracking. Units are also subject to periodic USMC inspections.
In addition to teaching and meeting these requirements, the command team hopes to fundraise to provide educational trips for the cadets and create a study lounge to encourage good study habits and camaraderie. Even with the big challenges any new unit faces, Wade says, “It’s a lot of work, but completely worth it, every time you see a cadet and realize what they are capable of becoming and how this program can help them with that journey.”
For more information, contact Master Sergeant Richardson at (760) 723-6300 ext. 2131 or email at BORichardson@FUHSD.net.