SOLEDAD — Students from throughout Monterey County gathered at Soledad High School on Feb. 1 as the Soledad Naval Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (NJROTC) hosted a drill competition.
The four other schools in the county with cadet programs — Monterey, Seaside, Everett Alvarez and Marina — were invited to the Soledad event to compete in group and individual drills as well as physical fitness competitions.
“All the ROTC programs here in Monterey County are about making our kids into better citizens,” said Capt. Pedro Gomez, a retired senior naval instructor with the U.S. Marine Corps who is now program manager for the Soledad NJROTC.
Gomez explained the cadet corps is a citizen development program where students learn about self-discipline, leadership, time management, attention to detail and endurance. He noted the program is not about expecting the cadets to serve in the military.
“To be in this program they have to maintain a 2.0 GPA,” Gomez said. “Any kid that goes below that, they go into a remedial program, or they get dis-enrolled from the program.” He explained that cadets have to show they have the discipline to commit, and all of them are voluntary members.
The Soledad NJROTC has a roster of 196 high school members, with the competition teams having earned their places by performing continuous drills during practices to demonstrate their skills.
“It’s a lot of team building, they learn to work with different personalities,” Gomez said.
Each school needed a minimum of 40 cadets for their competition teams.
“It takes a lot of hours to develop these teams,” Gomez said. “The best ones are the ones that end up representing our school.”
The five schools competed to show their skills as color guards, in unarmed drills, in armed drills with rifles, in knockout drills where a drill instructor shouted rapid-fire orders, push-ups, crunches and 200-meter relays. The entire time, the cadets had to perform with precision and efficiency, with military judges on hand at every step of the way examining the fine details of such things as foot placement or posture.
“We’re going to see who’s the best school in the county for bragging rights,” Gomez said about the competition.”
The students in their military uniforms spent all morning and much of the afternoon on a Saturday in the competition, a different choice than the one made by many of their peers in the same age range.
“One thing we always tell the kids is to do the right thing,” Gomez said. “Every day you’re going to be making decisions, and are the decisions you make in your life the right ones?”
The cadet room has a slogan at the front, which reminds students about the decisions they make today being the one’s they’ll have to live with tomorrow.
“In today’s culture, it’s all about having a screen in their faces,” Gomez said. “With ROTC, they learn to communicate with each other.”
From the beginning, the cadets are taught about honor, courage and commitment, the Navy’s core values.
“Our society is pushing away from soft skills,” Gomez said. “We still teach them to say ‘yes sir, no sir, yes ma’am, no ma’am.’”
He said the cadet program teaches them to act with manners and respect, whether by opening doors for others or addressing their teachers by their last names, or how to behave in a restaurant.
All skills that Gomez called “basic life skills these kids need to become adults.”