SOLEDAD — The people living in the city of Soledad have seen them. High school aged kids running around in uniforms, but not everyone understands who or what they are.
The Soledad High School has something special that the rest of the South County high schools don’t: the Navy Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (NJROTC).
The NJROTC curriculum emphasizes citizenship and leadership development. They also teach maritime heritage, the significance of sea power and naval topics, such as the fundamentals of naval operations, seamanship, navigation and meteorology.
The Soledad NJROTC students are required to hold a certain grade average (at least a 2.0, but they are expected to bring that average up). As in the Navy itself, there is no wiggle room; you do what you have to do.
One of the requirements of the NJROTC is that it be taught and directed by retired Naval, Marine or Coast Guard personnel. The Soledad High School NJROTC is under the direction of Captain Pete Gomez, U.S. Marine Corps-retired, and Chief K. Peaches, U.S. Navy-retired.
The NJROTC duty toward the students is to: promote patriotism, develop informed and responsible citizens also develop respect for constructed authority in the students. Other things the NJROTC instill and develop in the students are: leadership potential, the promote high school completion, promote higher education, promote community service and develop a high degree of personal honor, self-reliance, individual discipline and leadership.
Promote an understanding of the basic elements and need for national security, provide information on the military services as a possible career but for most students the NJROTC provides an alternative to gangs and provides incentive to live healthy and drug free.
The students learn to work together, to respect authority and themselves. The students drill long and hard. They serve as flag bearers, they volunteer their time and work with local groups.
This Memorial Day groups from the Soledad NJROTC will be in three of the four South County cities during the services at the cemetery, and just last week they helped out the Soledad American Legion during a fundraiser.
The students who are accepted in the NJROTC come out of it changed. They are more responsible, their conduct and behavior is changed for the better. They are proud to boast that they have had their members go on colleges one recently graduated from UCLA with two degrees.
“These are our future leaders,” said Captain Gomez.
They have 177 Cadets from a school that has 1,450 students enrolled. Everett Alvarez in Salinas has roughly 60 Cadets in their NJROTC and the school has over 2,400 students.
Soledad is one of the smaller schools to have a NJROTC in its school, but they are one of the strongest programs in the nation as their award can prove. The program is in the top 10 out of 95 high school programs; their goal is to be in the top 5.
The students are committed to the program, showing up at the school before 7 a.m. and sometimes not going home until after 5 p.m., They just came in third place overall at a drill competition in Las Vegas, where Soledad was the smallest school performing. Next they have plans to take a team to Florida to compete.
The program needs to raise funds for any trips they take, as they are not funded by the high school. The students are from the high school, but the program is a national program.
They have 15 seniors graduating this year and all career oriented. Each will wear the NJROTC sash at graduation.
They recently visited Main Street Middle School to talk to eighth-grade students about the program to get them excited about it once they get to high school.