Carroll student wants district to create a JROTC program

SOUTHLAKE -- Fourteen-year-old Kevin O'Brien already understands how to work the chain of command.

After reading about the JROTC program online, he decided that the Carroll school district needed one. He contacted his principal and e-mailed administrators and Superintendent David Faltys.

Then last week, O'Brien appeared before the Carroll school board, urging trustees to consider launching a Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps unit. He told them that he is "quite frankly, embarrassed" that the 7,800-student district lacks the high school program.

"I wanted to make sure the members of the school board were aware of my endeavors," said O'Brien, an eighth-grader who is student body president at Dawson Middle School. "I thought it would be a beneficial program for us to have. It would add another dimension; it would help diversify the high school."

Trustees made no promises. After all, the cash-strapped school district is trying to avoid cutting programs, not adding programs. Facing a $3 million shortfall, officials are in a multiyear expense-cutting initiative and are looking at all departments and campuses.

But the idea merits at least a look, Trustee Craig Rothmeier said.

"Until we've done all of our homework about all of the costs and what it would involve, I would be very supportive of more discussion," Rothmeier said.

School districts join with military service branches to offer JROTC programs. Districts bear part of the cost, providing classroom space, offices and equipment. The federal government provides curriculum materials and reimburses districts for half the salaries of instructors, who are retired military officers and noncommissioned officers, said Lt. Col. Luther Berry, who runs the Fort Worth school district's JROTC program.

Cadets wear their uniform once a week and earn elective and physical education credits for the course and are involved in many activities, including serving as honor guards at veterans ceremonies and sporting events.

Rifle teams from Fort Worth's JROTC units have won national awards, and graduates have gone on to earn scholarships, Berry said.

The program emphasizes concepts such as leadership and character development, self-discipline and fitness.

"It's not just a marching class," Berry said. "This is a citizenship program."

At some school districts, such as Arlington and Keller, teens from every high school travel to a single school to participate in the program. Birdville and Fort Worth schools have JROTC units in all high schools. And in 2002, Fort Worth launched a Junior Cadet Corps for middle school students.

O'Brien, a Civil War buff, is interested in participating in the JROTC color guard. He said he is thinking about trying to get into the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

O'Brien's mother, Joan O'Brien, said the family understands that Carroll has financial problems and that the federal budget is also being squeezed. And even if Carroll goes forward with JROTC, she said, it might take a while to set up, possibly too late for Kevin to take part.

"He understands the chances are pretty slim," she said. "It's a teachable moment for Kevin. If you have a passion for something, you're not too young -- go after it."

JESSAMY BROWN, 817-390-7326