I am compelled to write this testimonial—not because the program is in need of a recruiting campaign, and not because I am starved for attention—but because there is some alarming scuttlebutt in the wind that this program, like so many military activities lately, is in danger of being severely curtailed or, even worse, eliminated.
The issue runs much deeper than my personal interest as an NSI. It has implications much more significant for society as a whole. One has only to pick up a newspaper to see that the United States has some critical social ills and to realize that remedies are neither abundant nor readily apparent—as seen in the recent violence in Los Angeles and the rising crime statistics in other cities.
Read about—or experience—the signs of a failing public education system. Listen to the growing frustration and anger so evident on the radio and television talk shows. It is clear that the nation's youth are caught up in the maelstrom of uncertainty and strife permeating U.S. society—and that is where NJROTC comes in. It comes not as a panacea, but as one small, cost-effective countercurrent to a growing torrent of serious social deficiencies.
I challenge those who would diminish or eliminate this youth-oriented program to give up a Saturday—as these cadets do on a frequent basis—and attend a drill competition. I defy anyone not to be encouraged, even emotionally moved, after observing these young people engaged in healthy competition, demonstrating the fruits of countless hours of practice, in which they have worked as part of a team striving for excellence and the achievement of a measured goal.
I invite those doubters to attend a student assembly in a school fortunate enough to have a junior ROTC unit, and watch a color guard proudly opening the ceremonies wearing uniforms and carrying their nation's Color. And I suggest another visit to an assembly in a school with no such unit—where I guarantee the contrast will be marked. Let the nay-sayers join the parents of cadets on a Cadet Night and watch as these uniformed adolescents give their all to show their parents what they have learned in hopes of earning the applause that is not always audible at home.
Junior ROTC works. Although it is not perfect, its success is directly proportional to the dedication and abilities of those who guide it. The program serves, without exception, as a healthy competitor to the street gang as a place of belonging, an alternative to the mind-numbing hypnosis of afternoon television, and a productive conduit for youthful energy.
It works because there are many high-school students who are starving for a disciplined environment, who want to belong to an organization with stability that will offer them both challenges and rewards.
It works because the instructor has a number of incentives that are not available to other teachers in the typical high-school environment—uniforms, promotions, ribbons and medals, and unique field trips to grant or deny as measures of individual performance. The program offers opportunities for young people to participate in competitive activities that do not require athletic skill, and academic adventures into realms not found in the usual school curriculum.
While the benefits of junior ROTC would be welcome in any high-school environment, they are particularly relevant to the inner city. In this milieu of poverty, crime, and social chaos, where the problems of today's youth are greatly magnified, any toehold on the beachhead of reason is likewise amplified in importance. Consider for a moment that the cost of maintaining an entire unit is less than that required to capture, convict, and incarcerate just one criminal.
The young men and women I deal with are not meaningless flotsam on a sea of despair. They are potential "points of light" who, given the right spark and enough fuel for a sustained burn, can become beacons of hope in a dark night of national crisis. But this will not happen if we snuff out the spark of promise. In truth, rather than considering its reduction or elimination, we should probably be looking at ways to expand this successful concept, to reinvest the peace dividend we hear so much about, so that more young people may reap the benefits. The program's only failure is that it reaches such a small proportion of today's youth.
The nation must not allow the abandonment of this program to be added to a long and growing list of inner city crimes. It will not cure all that ails us, but it can help to rescue a precious few from the despair of the many. We must preserve this proven program, protect it in its hour of danger, and defend it against those who would irresponsibly trade it away for an imperceptible fiscal gain.
Lieutenant Commander Cutler , a Naval Adviser in Vietnam, is the Naval Science Instructor at Walbrook High School in Baltimore, MD.