How Youth Military Programs Create Confident Kids

When it comes to students taking part in a youth military program at school, it turns out there is a lot more to it than just instilling a sense of patriotism in a kid. Programs like NJROTC, Sea Cadets and the Young Marines are shaping and inspiring young minds towards achievement.

The Navy Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps doing marching drills.

Navy Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (NJROTC)
“Our students learn about leadership, history and respect,” says CDR Rick Jordan, USN (Ret.), NJROTC commander at Poway Unified School District’s Westview High School.

Jordan attributes the success of the program—now in its seventh year—to a committed group of students and parents who understand the importance of civic responsibility.

“Sometimes when parents first learn about the program, they are concerned that their kids will be pulled into military service. We are sponsored, in part, by the military but the school district also picks up part of the bill,” Jordan says.

Jordan notes that participants—or cadets—are schooled in issues of government and naval history, but also receive training in health, physical fitness and citizenship, among other topics.

About 143 students will take part in NJROTC this school year at Westview. All the cadets will be assigned to platoons numbering about 15–20 each, and will be managed by a senior student leader. Cadets participate in fitness programs, drill teams and various leadership councils. One day a week, cadets will wear their uniforms on campus.

Outside of the school day, students take part in spirited competitions, parades, field trips, morale exercises and even family picnics. Some go on to represent the school in such fields as sailing competitions, leadership councils and marksmanship teams.

“A huge part of citizenship development is giving back to the community. Last year we performed nearly 3,000 hours of community service in and around Rancho Peñasquitos,” Jordan says. “We assisted the PQ YMCA and local elementary schools with their family events, performed color guards and flag details, and helped at e-waste recycling and clean-up events.  We also welcomed home World War II veterans who were recently honored in Washington D.C. with Honor Flight.”

About 15 percent of students who take part in the program are from active military families, Jordan says.

A young marine stands tall.
Miramar Young Marines

For those students looking to learn about life in the Marine Corps, there is the Young Marines organization.

“We have a boot camp two to three times a year, depending on the number of requests we have for new kids interested in the program. We will have another boot camp after school starts up,” says Susan Righthouse, whose husband Bret serves as the executive officer of the Miramar Young Marines.

Righthouse, whose entire family is deeply involved with the organization, said that the Young Marines participate in parades, flag ceremonies and fair booths.

“Our program focuses on character building, leadership and promoting a healthy, drug-free lifestyle,” Susan says.

Boot camp runs for 10 Saturdays. Upon graduation from the camps, students are officially part of the Young Marines program.

Sea cadets learn the ropes.
U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corps (NSCC)

Not all schools have NJROTC programs, but there are a good number of youth military activities available throughout the region.

“There are probably 20 total in San Diego County and each branch of the service is represented,” Jordan says. Among those groups are the U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corps (NSCC)—a senior cadet program for students ages 13 to 17—and the Navy League Cadet Corps (NLCC) for kids ages 11 to 13.

The programs teach seamanship, courage, self-reliance and discipline, according to Jordan. Like the NJROTC, the Sea Cadet Corps—a federally chartered nonprofit organization—provides an opportunity for young people to learn, engage and embrace the military culture, all while gaining experience and confidence as they pursue their future goals.

Marching Onward
While most students choose not to move on with a branch of service after they graduate, all cadets have ample opportunities to advance their skills and education.

“Seeing the kids get a scholarship is great,” Jordan says. “The best part is when you see a freshman who started out awkward and unsure of himself, graduate (from the NJROTC program) full of confidence.” Each program’s ultimate goal is to inspire students to achieve their best work inside and outside of the classroom.

Jordan says that there are varying reasons for the success of youth military programs, but adds that students tend to respond positively to history. “They learn what military members went through and the sacrifices they made. Our lives have been so good for so long. We need to honor those sacrifices. So that’s what we do.”

Learn more about youth military programs offered in your neighborhood:

U.S. Naval Sea Cadets Corps

Miramar Young Marines

Civil Air Patrol   

National Guard Youth Challenge Program

California Cadet Corps

Westview NJROTC

Kerri S. Mabee is a longtime contributor to San Diego Family Magazine.

Published: September 2014

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