JROTC -- teamwork, citizenship, survival skills

  • Published
  • By Jennifer Hensley
  • Fuji Flyer contributor
It's not hard to imagine a high school class that teaches teamwork and citizenship. But what about a class that teaches teamwork, citizenship and drown-proof training? Not only does this class exist right here at Yokota High School, it does so in a most unlikely classroom - the Army Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps, or JROTC.

Began over fifteen years ago, the Army JROTC program at Yokota was founded after budget cuts nearly destroyed all hope of a JROTC program.

When the Army caught wind of the need for a curriculum at Yokota, they jumped at the chance to create a unit at YHS.

"We came in and started from scratch," said retired Army Col. Robert Mateer, the unit's instructor. "And now we have a program that's truly exceptional."

Exceptional indeed, not only has the unit taken top honors in color guard and rifle team competitions, but they have been named an Honor Unit with Distinction for the past 12 years. To earn the title, the unit had to pass inspection with a score of 96 percent or better by a panel of active-duty judges.

They have no plans to stop the momentum started all those years ago.

"This is a program that provides so many opportunities for our young people," said Colonel Mateer, proudly.

"This unit works hard and it shows. I'm proud of our honor unit title. With any luck, this year will be lucky number 13."

The Panther Battalion, as the JROTC unit is affectionately known, consists of about 17 percent of the YHS p o p u l a - t i o n . A b o u t half of the program's p a r t i c i - pants are male and the other half is fem a l e , m a k i n g for a very JROTC -- teamwork, citizenship, survival skills interesting dynamic.

In fact, many of the battalion's leaders are female.

"Once they put on their uniforms, I don't think it makes much difference whether they're male or female," said Colonel Mateer.

The Panther Battalion curriculum is no joke.

The battalion starts each morning raising the flags outside the high school. Inside, they learn leadership, map reading, drill and ceremony and uniform inspections.

"This is a system based on values," describes Colonel Mateer. "One of our most important lessons is citizenship."

It is a lesson that serves the cadets well.

"I have so many parents tell me about the changes they see in their kids after they join our program," said Colonel Mateer. "They listen better, they become more respectful. It's great."

Several times a year, the battalion has an opportunity to use all of the skills they learn from JROTC. In addition to drown proof training at the Natatorium, one of the most exciting activities they participate in is their annual excursion to Camp Fuji.

The JROTC staff take the students to Camp Fuji and drop them off on a hill with nothing more than a map, a compass, basic survival materials and each other.

"It's an amazing lesson in teamwork and dependability. Everything they learn in the classroom is tested out there on the mountain," said Colonel Mateer. "And every year, they all make it back, safe and sound."

Although the program does serve to motivate many of its participants to join the military, the one thing it is not is a recruiting service.

"It is a bridge. Some of our students cross the bridge into the service. But, all of them go on to be better citizens," Colonel Mateer said with a smile.

Probably one of the biggest reasons the battalion is so successful is because of its dedicated leader Colonel Mateer.

A leader from another JROTC unit in the Pacific once called asking why his unit wore uniforms so often when they should be reserved only for special occasions. Hisresponse was simple. "Every day in JROTC is a special occasion."

His students - past and present - would most likely agree.

The walls of his office are lined with success stories of former students, and he said about once a year he gets a call from a former student or parent, sharing a story of how the JROTC program made a positive difference in their lives.

"I'm just the motivator," said Colonel Mateer, humbly. "If something gets done around here, it's because the kids did it."