AFJROTC Brings Big Opportunities
By Kim Tran
The students dressed in full navy blue uniforms at NHS are responsible for many things. They raise and lower the flag during the national anthem, as well as deliver a performance of their own at rallies. Cadets stomp and clap, while others toss their rifles in the air. But outside of the spotlight, they do much more beyond the rallies. The Air Force Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (AFJROTC) is a class focused on leadership and building character.
In general, there are four branches of ROTC: Air Force, Army, Marine, and Navy. But at Novato High, only the Air Force branch is offered as a class. The Novato High AFJROTC is focused on training students to become leaders, as well as teaching aerospace science and how to fly planes. AFJROTC was founded in 1966 as the 11th out of the original 29 ROTC branches and was the first branch opened in California, according to Building Better Citizens in America’s website. It is led by Lieutenant Colonel Robert Birch and Master Sergeant Richard Muench, who both served in the U.S. military for more than 20 years. Muench has worked both in and out of the military.
“When I was in the Air Force, we had missions to do and it was something really important. When I was working for a company, I’m making money and I’m helping a company make money. That’s it. So, being able to come here and teach young folks how to be responsible and grow up and achieve their full potential is my real sense of purpose,” said Muench.
The class itself is divided into two categories, the upper class and the lower class. The lower class which are for first-year and second-year cadets, take part in fun activities such as building airplanes, playing sports, and learning about aerospace science. They also participate in weekly uniform inspections. The upper class of third-year and fourth-year cadets is focused on leadership and building life skills. Cadets learn how to plan events and manage careers.
“I think my favorite part of ROTC...would be the stuff that we learn,” said freshmen Addison Parmenter. “We learn a little about aerospace science and some famous names into aviation history. That, and we also learn about social etiquette and...learn about medicine and drugs.”
A huge aspect of AFJROTC is character building. Character building to Muench is important because it will help them become successful, even if they don’t want end up being a leader.
“I want students to come out of this class being the best person that they can be,” Muench said. “Having the most character, being honest, being hard-working, having good moral character. That to me is the most important part. Not everyone is going to go out and be a leader, but if they are the best person they can be, then they will be the most successful doing whatever they decide to do.”
A misconception about AFJROTC is that cadets have to join the military after taking this class. They do not have to join the military, but for those that do want to join, the process is made much easier because of the experience they gain, in addition to potential scholarships they can receive. If they choose the military path, college ROTC can provide a scholarship until a bachelor’s degree, but they must serve active duty after college, according to the website Best Colleges.
“I don’t view ourselves as that militaristic,” said junior Andres Felix. “We’re more of a leadership class that’s military themed. I think “Sarge” (Muench) agrees with me on that one. We do more fun events and leadership stuff than military.”
Scholarships and awards are received at an event called “Awards Night”. Recipients that receive an award apply for them in advance through an interview process. One can receive free scholarships depending on their performance. Ribbons are given when a cadet achieves a goal. For example, a service ribbon is earned after doing 10 hours of community service.
The routine that AFJROTC performs at rallies are made up of three teams: the color guard, the unarmed, and the rifle. Felix describes the significance of the teams.
“We have three drill teams,” said Felix. “The color guard, who does the national anthem for you guys. We have the unarmed team which is the clapping and the stomping. We have a rifle team which spins the rifles. So, we have this team because every year we go to a competition called NorCal, where we show off what we do. We won the third-place medal a few years ago... overall, it’s a exhibition of skill: how well can you perform, how well can you do. We also have three phases which are the bearing check, how well you can march, and how good you can spin.”
Although this class seems like an exciting class, the desire to enroll has not always been popular.
In the past, AFJROTC struggled to keep the program open due to low attendance. Building Better Citizens for America (BBCA) is a non-profit foundation that was created to support the AFJROTC program at Novato High. Muench explained that now AFJROTC is much stronger because of recent higher enrollment and the support from BBCA.
“The biggest reason why we had such small numbers in the beginning was instructor instability,” said Muench. “We did not have two instructors here for an extended period of time. There were instructors coming and going and that has an impact on how many students want to be a part of it. As far as the budgetary things go now, the program is much stronger. We have a 100 (students) again this year and as long as the school budget isn’t too tight, they don’t look at anybody, they don’t look to cut anything. We do have a fundraising organization that raises money so if our numbers are low, it will help offset the cost of the program to the district and encourage them to not cut the program.”
To many cadets, AFJROTC is a second family that brings people together.
“What makes us special is that we embody what family is,” said Felix. “We bring cadets together. People who wouldn't usually have a social life, we give them a social life. We provide them a space to be friends. We provide a space for them to be leaders; to have a chance to be able to do more in life. Cadets that walked through here that feel like crap have walked out as golden people, similar to me.”
“I would definitely say that it’s a huge family,” said senior Emma Langenbacher. “Everyone is so caring and no one is judgemental which I absolutely love, because everyone comes from all walks of life when they come here. It’s like there’s people who are athletes. There are people who focus on academics. Everyone is different. Some people may love music, some people may love reading, but we all come here because we all want that family, and no matter what, we all came here for the same reason. We all care about each other and that’s what important.”
AFJROTC has impacted students on campus in many ways by providing them a family to support them. AFJROTC has given students a chance to lead, explore new pathways, and further develop their own character, becoming the best person they can be along the way.