Navy JROTC leaders dedicated to giving back

Published 10:21 am Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Two veterans are using their love for service to motivate and mold young people through Warren Central High School’s Navy Reserve Officers’ Training Corps.

The NJROTC is not a military recruitment service, but is funded by the Navy as a way to give back, instructor Master Chief Bob Hodges said.

“The purpose behind this whole program is it’s a citizenship development program,” he said.

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Hodges said the goal is to teach students to be better citizens, how government works and leadership, which has a profound impact on their behavior and grades.

“JROTC units exceed the graduation rate of almost every high school in the nation,” he said. “We have less people drop out. It’s a benefit to the school, and it’s a benefit to the nation.”

Hodges is a retired command master chief in the Navy and has been a naval science instructor at WCHS since 2009. He took the job after retiring from service to keep busy in a way that was familiar to him based on his past job responsibilities.

“I knew when I retired I was going to miss that mentoring,” Hodge said.

He said it gets hectic at times but there is nothing more rewarding to him because it feels like he is making a difference in the students’ lives.

“It’s what keeps you coming back every year,” Hodge said.

Even though Hodges and Major Jim Holder are the instructors, Hodge said they are actually facilitators who let the student leaders make most of the decisions about when and where the unit competes and does community service.

“We’re going to do it if it’s 1) affordable and 2) it’s not illegal,” Hodge said.

The units are graded on academics/professional development, citizenship, unit participation, miscellaneous and area manager points. Then each unit is compared to the other units in the area and also worldwide. The student leaders meet with each other over the summer to study the previous year’s points report to prioritize a plan of what they need to do better.

“They do all this,” Hodge said. “It’s not us.”

Holder is retired from the U.S. Marine Corps and has been the senior naval science instructor at Warren Central since 2008. This is his ninth year at WCHS and his 18th years as an instructor.

The unit underwent a major transformation when Holder took over. Hodges said the school is required to have 100 students in the program, and when Holder arrived, the unit was on probation for having only 80 students involved. The program at Warren Central was at the bottom of the list of all schools in the area at the time.

“The unit was about to be closed,” Hodge said. “We were ranked 52 of 52.”

By 2010 member numbers were up to 120, and in 2011 the program won a Unit Achievement Award. The unit received this designation again in 2012, 2013 and 2015.

“In a period of three years we went from the bottom of the barrel to the top 30 percent in the word,” Hodge said.

In 2014, the unit received the Distinguished Unit Award and also won the coveted Most Improved Award. This past year the program was named a Distinguished Unit again and ranked 11th in Area Eight—made up of 47 schools in Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and parts of Florida. There are now 180 students in the WCHS unit.

“Not only have we increased numbers, we’ve increased quality,” Hodge said.