Something to build upon

Published 11:10 am Saturday, June 5, 2010

FRANKLIN—Shortly before the final bell rings to dismiss students at Franklin High School, three girls in crisp, olive green uniforms leave the air-conditioned comfort of their school building and walk to the flagpole on the front lawn.

Overhead, the flags of the United States and Virginia barely flutter in the hot, humid June air. As sophomore Shanikqua McNear begins to lower both flags, the other two girls—sophomore Ciara Banks and junior Tanzie Holland—stand at attention and salute. When the flags are near the ground the three gently, but firmly, fold them into shape.

Although it is a brief ceremony, it is one that has been repeated every Wednesday afternoon by students participating in the National Defense Cadet Corps program, which began this semester.

“For a brand new program, it seems to be going pretty well,” Franklin High School Principal Lawrence Whiting said Wednesday. “The kids are still getting used to the things that they are trying to teach in there, which is very different from what they would normally be getting in school.”

There are presently 55 students enrolled in the NDCC program, which is almost identical to the more widely known Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps. The programs differ in the way they are funded; the federal government subsidizes most funding for JROTC, while NDCC is privately funded.

The nonprofit group Franklin-Southampton Futures Inc. was instrumental in helping bring NDCC to the school, which remains on a waiting list for JROTC.

Whiting said he was pleased with the program’s reception by students so far.

“I think they’re learning a lot,” Whiting said. “They have to do physical training and they have to learn how to march. Maybe it’s non-traditional for them, but I think they’re going around pretty well.”

Despite the military affiliation of the program, Whiting said participants aren’t required to someday join the military.

“Some of them will join, but it’s not set up for that,” Whiting said. “It’s mainly to teach about citizenship, discipline and study skills, those kinds of things. The program is set up to help them, not necessarily to recruit people for the military.”

Whiting said students were beginning to sign up for the next semester of NDCC and expected the program, which is open to students in grades 9 through 11, to grow.

“With any luck there should be more kids because we’re adding a second instructor,” Whiting said. “That will allow us to put more students into the program.”

Lt. Col. Ben Hudson, a senior Army instructor who spent more than 24 years in the service before retiring in 2008, serves as instructor for the program.

“It’s been going very well,” Hudson said Wednesday. “It’s been busy, and it’s a fair amount of work, but it’s rewarding. More importantly, hopefully it’s been more rewarding for them.”

Hudson said the program puts kids in a good position to receive college scholarships. For those looking to pursue a career in the military, NDCC could help participants advance through the ranks a little quicker.

“They would receive bonus credits for active duty service,” Hudson said. “It also allows them to be viewed favorably, and most services will allow them to advance two additional ranks as a result of their time in the program.”

Asked what the biggest challenge has been so far, Hudson chuckled, “patience for myself and discipline for them.”

Tanzie, who is 17, said she plans to someday go to college to become a doctor and believes the NDCC will help her achieve that goal.

“The program shows us what the military does, but it also teaches us about leadership, about how you can become a better leader,” Tanzie said. “It also looks good on college applications.”

Meanwhile, Ciara and Shanikqua, both 16, say they are thinking about someday joining the military.

“I like the program because it teaches me how to be responsible,” said Ciara, who is thinking about joining the Navy. “It also taught me to respect my elders.”

Shanikqua said she plans to join the Marines. She said NDCC “taught me what the military will hold for me in the future.”