Students learn the ropes in Winder-Barrow military program
By Ryan Blackburn
WINDER - While other teenagers are savoring the waning days of summer
break, a gung-ho group of 20 Winder-Barrow High School students ran
laps, did push-ups and tried to master knot-tying, a skill they'll
need as the first members of the school's new National Army Cadet
"We're catching on pretty quickly," said Brett Downing, a rising
junior and one of the 400 students who will take cadet classes
offered this year at both Winder-Barrow and Apalachee high schools.
"I was pretty surprised."
During his first two years at Winder-Barrow, Brett urged principals
and school board members to consider adding a cadet program like
other schools in the state have had for years.
He wants someday to fly a jet in the Air Force, and having a
military-focused class will give him a head start and a sense of belonging.
"To me, it's just like one big family," Brett said.
After dozens of e-mail requests, petitions and surveys that Brett
asked fellow students to complete, the Barrow County Board of
Education approved the cadet corps program in April, setting aside
$338,000 to fund the classes, including two instructors' salaries and
benefits, equipment and uniforms for 300 pre-registered students.
"When I found out that we got it, I was basically screaming and
hollering," Brett said. "The board of education put up such a fight
with it because they weren't sure the funding was there."
School board members wanted assurance that the Army would offset some
of the cost of the program - as the military does for Junior Reserve
Officers Training Corps (JROTC) programs - and didn't get that
guarantee. But with so many interested students, the Army may soon
pick up part of the tab, said Maj. Tom Evans, an instructor at Winder-Barrow.
Most schools that apply for JROTC funding must submit to a year-long
evaluation, but the new Winder program is high up on a list of
requests, Evans said.
"We have done everything we needed to do to satisfy (the Army's)
requirements," Evans said. "It's more a matter now of them making a
To keep the program eligible for the Army funds, the school district
must register at least 10 percent of both Winder-Barrow and Apalachee
students and meet with JROTC administrators to make sure instructors
deliver the curriculum appropriately, he said.
JROTC can reach students who don't go for other traditional
extracurricular activities like football and band, Principal Al Darby said.
"This is something I feel our county, our school system, has needed
for the past 20 years," Darby said. "Now we'll be able to make even
more of an impact on a wider variety of kids than any other program we have."
JROTC students aren't obligated to enlist after they graduate, but
may enlist to take advantage of military programs that pay tuition,
board and other expenses for college students in exchange for a tour of duty.
And they leave high school with leadership, problem-solving and other
skills employers are always looking for, Evans said.
"I think what some people get caught up in is that it's a (military)
recruitment tool. That's absolutely not what this is about," he said.
While they have not yet worn their uniforms, Brett and other cadets
are planning to make a big debut at a football game to show off their pride.
"Just the whole brigade coming onto the field, it'll be like 'Boom.
This is who we are and what we've become,' " he said.