Story by: LTC (R) Eugene Thurman
I am LTC (R) Eugene Thurman, the new Senior Army Instructor at Austin High School, Decatur AL. CSM (R) Patricia Davis, Army Instructor and I started the 2022 school year with a vision for the eighth graders in the program. This vision was to allow 8th graders time to mature as cadets. We debated about their uniform. Will they look like soldiers in uniform before and after class and in their communities? Will they meet the grooming standards? At the end of our discussion, CSM Davis noted that we have more small uniforms sizes than sizes for the upperclassmen. Therefore, we outfitted 8th and 9th graders (Junior High cadets). We began teaching them the LET 1 curriculum. We held the first ever Change of Command Ceremony at the high school including the Junior High cadets. The classroom instructions and the event set the stage for loyalty, duty, respect, and selfless service among the Junior High cadets.
Our first semester together as the Austin High Black Bear Battalion has proven to be exceptional. For example, placing 8th graders in uniform, holding the ceremony, and introducing them to the JROTC program has provided a sense of belonging and maturity. Eight graders have excelled on our drill team. During their first competition at Jacksonville State, Anniston, AL the team won 1st Place in Unarmed Drill and 2nd Place during the Unarmed Inspection. They competed against 9th through 12th graders and won! This was the only team we entered into the competition.
Our next milestone was JLAB. We entered three teams in Round 1. All teams were made up of Junior High Cadets with one 10th, 11th and 12th grade cadet serving as the Team Captain respectively. All three teams were successful in making it to the Qualifier Round 2. Once again Junior High cadets successfully competing among seasoned LET 2, 3, and 4 cadets. The Junior High program was a stroke of genius by the leadership of the U.S. Army Cadet Command and Dr. Michael Douglas, Superintendent of Decatur City Schools. Furthermore, Junior High cadets competing and learning leadership has improved Austin High and Junior High cadets overall academics at every level in every classroom. It has sparked students desire to participate in opportunities for STEM. It has created interest among our nationally identified under represented and underserved populations in the program. It has also motivated other students to join the JROTC program. Even though our job does not entail preparing cadets for the military it seems the Junior High cadets crave military skills and challenges associated with STEM. Due to the result of our Junior High School program the Black Bear Battalion is once again on the rise as an Honor Unit with Distinction.