This story is re-printed with permission from Nework This Week. You can also read this story on the Newport This Week website.
Orieona Howard, a JROTC student at Rogers High from 2013 to 2017, enlisted in the Navy following graduation. She was stationed in South Carolina at the Naval Nuclear Power Station before enrolling in the U.S. Naval Academy in 2019, where she is majoring in Arabic. Following graduation, she will be required to complete a minimum five-year commitment in the Navy or the Marine Corps. Howard spoke with Newport This Week about how the JROTC program changed her career path, her job as a nuclear electrician and life at the Academy during a pandemic.Why did you enter the JROTC program?
I just remember sitting in the counselor’s office as she was making my schedule on the first day at Rogers and she asked me, “Gym or JROTC?” I had no desire to take a high school gym class. While this seemed like an insignificant decision at the time, it actually had a major impact on my life. Soon after joining, I found that I connected with the military mindset and the idea of holding myself and others accountable to standards and codes that regular high schoolers probably had never thought of before.What were some of the benefits of being in the program?
I was on the saber team and the drill team, and I was co-captain of the raider team, which is a physical fitness team that competes against other schools. I was also commander of the program’s Color Guard, and at the end of my sophomore year I was promoted to Cadet Command Sergeant Major, which allowed me to participate a lot more in the cadet leadership portion of the program. I was able to teach classes, carry out inspections, organize and participate in charity work, and plan and execute JROTC events for the cadets. The beauty of programs like JROTC is that they really are student-driven. Cadets fuel the program. [It] is 100 percent what the cadets put into it. So, being a part of all the teams and being a member of the program staff allowed me to make significant contributions to the program and be a major part of moving the program forward during my four years. Looking back, I think that is what I am most proud of.Tell us about the Naval nuclear pipeline.
The Navy has a branch of nuclear engineering rates. The “nuke pipeline” consists of enlisted sailors and officers who work to run and maintain the nuclear reactors on ships and submarines. The pipeline is the training for these jobs. It’s about two years long and consists of three different schools: one for basic knowledge, one for studying nuclear power systems, and one called “prototype,” where you simulate standing watch on an actual submarine.Why did you leave for the Naval Academy?
I loved my job as a nuclear electrician, but I wanted to do more. As an officer, I knew that I could have a larger influence on the Navy as a whole and not just my specific division.Why did you decide to major in Arabic?
I’ve always been interested in languages. I thought Arabic would be useful in future careers and would help me learn more about the Middle East and Arab culture, which also interest me.How has the pandemic affected your time at the Naval Academy?
The beginning of the year was a little hectic. We were struggling to find a way to reunite the brigade, which left a large portion of my class away from the academy for about seven months. However, once we were together, the new virtual learning methods and COVID precautions that were put in place became a lot easier to adapt to. This year has forced a majority of midshipmen to move out of their comfort zones and find alternate ways to connect with people.
Overall, I believe we have learned valuable skills in leadership and perseverance that we will be able to take with us into the fleet and our lives.What are your overall career goals?
Long-term, I have my eyes set on representing America internationally. Right now, my goal is to become a foreign service officer for the U.S. government. I just have a strong desire to see the world and connect with people from all walks of life. Becoming a diplomat is a good way to do those things, while also still helping the country.How do you feel your participation in JROTC influenced those goals?
JROTC opened my eyes to the different paths people can take in life. Before the program, I knew very little about the military. I had no idea that serving in the military was a career option, and because of that I was blind to all of the career opportunities the military offered.Since graduation from Rogers, have you interacted with the current JROTC students, whether in person or remotely?
I have made several visits to Rogers and have had the opportunity to talk with some of the current JROTC cadets. I have also attended the Christmas formations and participated in the inspections. It is an amazing experience to be able to see the program flourish and to see the growing interest students have in participating in JROTC.What have your experiences in the JROTC program, the Navy and the Naval Academy taught you?
One important thing that I have learned is how much the military has to offer. Throughout high school and even earlier, students get pushed to go to college and prepare for college right after high school. The military is sort of seen as a last resort. However, I have learned that joining the military is a valid alternate path and people should not be afraid to look into it. Even if you do not want to be in the military, JROTC has much to offer in terms of developing your character and leadership abilities. And while it is a lot of hard work, it is also a lot of fun, and I would recommend giving it a shot.