WAXAHACHIE — To instill in students the value of citizenship, service to the United States, personal responsibility, character and a sense of accomplishment, 892 high school Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Units and an additional 14 National Defense Cadet Corps are scattered worldwide.

The programs already exist at nearby Cedar Hill, Burleson, Mansfield Timberview and Forney High Schools and may soon make its debut at Waxahachie High School.

Former United States Marine and WHS Principal Al Benskin has expressed his interest in a JROTC program since his time at WHS began.

“We have been offered a program by the United States Air Force to start up an Air Force Reserve Junior Officer Training Corps [AFJROTC] in fall 2017. Before proceeding with anything, we are going to let the board know what is going on and the major obstacles for us to get over, like funding and facilities,” Benskin stated.

The program provides students with leadership training and an aerospace science program.

As told by the AFJROTC website, “Secondary school students who enroll in the AFJROTC program are offered a wide variety of curricular and extracurricular activities. The program explores the historical and scientific aspects of aerospace technology and teaches high school students self-reliance, self-discipline and other characteristics found in good leaders. The AFJROTC program is open to ninth through twelfth-grade students who are citizens of the United States. The program is not a recruiting tool for the military services and those students who participate in AFJROTC do not incur any obligation to the Air Force.”

Benskin explained that many of the details have been worked out, but that there are still many things to straighten out before it becomes official.

“Memorandum and understanding memorandum of agreement is pretty laid out already, so that is not a problem. Dr. Glenn and I will follow up on it before we are out for Christmas break. We have already planned in the aspect of having it available in the course catalog. Again we’ll see if students have an interest,” Benskin said. “We know there is interest from students, more than a good sample size seemed interested. There are things we will have to overcome, and I think that we will overcome before getting there.”

Approximately 80 percent of the program's curriculum will be evenly split between aerospace science and leadership education, while 20 percent will focus on health and wellness for life training. Students who complete the program are granted credit toward graduation.

The website tells that “Classroom study includes the heritage of flight, principles of aircraft flight and navigation, human requirements of flight, development of aerospace power, aerospace vehicles, rocketry, space and technology programs, and the aerospace industry. Students are introduced to military customs and courtesies, citizenship in the United States, first aid, wellness, health and fitness, basic drill and ceremonies, effective communications, management, human relations, and life after high school. All uniforms and curriculum materials are provided by the Air Force.”

As well as in-class lessons, students have the chance to take trips to military bases, aerospace facilities and industries, museums, civilian airports and other aerospace education related locations.

The program allows Cadets to participate in parades, leadership laboratory activities, civilian air rifle marksmanship programs, drill team competitions, color and honor guards, military balls, and honorary academic groups. The website states “Many AFJROTC units complement the curriculum through the cooperation and resources of organizations such as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Civil Air Patrol, and the National Endowment for Financial Education.”

Knowing the board WISD Board of Trustees would have some financials questions and concerns, Benskin quickly found and shared answers with the board.

“It’s truly a cost-sharing situation. The largest coverage we would have to pay for are the instructors and that we could mitigate that cost based on their rank. If we don’t want a big six figure salary, we make sure we don’t get a full bird colonel and that we get a lieutenant, captain or something,” Benskin explained.

All AFJROTC instructors are retired Air Force commissioned and noncommissioned officers and are trained through the AFJROTC Academic Instructor course.

The website tells that the instructors are “full-time faculty members of the participating high school and are employed by the local school board to teach AFJROTC classes. There are more than 1,910 instructors serving in the 870 units around the world.”

“This has been a long process. We started it a couple of years ago. Quite frankly, most of all of the services are drawing back on ROTC units because it can be costly. Moreover, why now? I don’t know,” Benskin said. “It popped up in an email. I think it’s good timing and I would be remised if I didn’t say I’m pretty sure the Air Force and all of the services knew that we were building a new school. Is the timing just perfect? I think it is.”

Though WHS offers students choir, band, theater, athletics and more, the principal noted that there are always a few students who slip through the cracks and miss their “niche.”

“I do believe we have a demographic of kids who will find their niche with this and that this program will fill that gap,” Benskin stated.

There are now more than 121,000 high school cadets enrolled in the program in the U.S. and around the world.

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Kelsey Poynor, @KPoynor_WDL

(469) 517-1454