By Ginger DeShaney
Pride. Honor. Respect. Leadership.
The cadets of South Boston JROTC exude these qualities.
And when we see these young leaders at events and ceremonies, presenting color guards or providing escorts, we can’t help but feel proud of them and our neighborhood.
“It’s helping the community and giving the community something to be proud of,” C/MAJ George Infante, a senior at Excel High School, said about the cadets’ involvement in events.
“We are doing these things to inspire people,” said LTC (R) Anthony Hinson, who has been with the South Boston JROTC at Excel for seven years and leads the cadets with SFC (R) George Machado.
The cadets recently participated in a flag raising at UMass-Boston on Pearl Harbor Day and the opening ceremony of the Boston Army-Navy flag football game last Saturday.
For C/CPL Devonnie Dennis, a sophomore at Excel, the events honor other soldiers. “If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be here right now,” she said. “It’s a way to honor others.”
C/2LT Aiden Steadman, a junior, has been part of dedicating hero squares and various parades. “It makes me feel like I make a difference.”
C/CPL Duy Tran, a junior at Excel, was part of the South Boston parade, where he had a chance to talk with veterans. “That gives me a sense of giving back to the community,” he said.
“One of the things that I loved about this program was being able to help people and the community,” said C/2LT Andrea Orellana. “It feels great being part of something that means a lot and that has such a big representation in this country.”
The Army Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) members at Excel High represent the best of the best – not just the program but the students, too.
The South Boston program was named an Honor Unit with Distinction (HUD) in 2017 and during COVID retained that prestigious status. To achieve HUD, the unit has to demonstrate exceptional performance in all areas of program operation.
Student-wise, Hinson rattled off a few stats: For the last seven years, every valedictorian was a female JROTC cadet and National Honor Society member, and half of them were battalion commanders.
Added Machado, JROTC has the highest GPA as a group in the school.
Battalion Commander C/LTC Thy Nguyen is a candidate for valedictorian this year and hopes to attend Yale. She came to the United States from Vietnam. She joined JROTC “because I found something new in here.
“You learn more about leadership, teamwork. When you are in JROTC you learn more about communication skills and you learn how to work together.”
Being in JROTC elevates students who want to go into the military, but it’s not the focus of the program, said Infante, who will be going into the Army after graduating.
“This is our mission: Motivate young people to be better citizens,” Hinson said. “Our mission is not to get people in the military or recruit for any armed forces.
“In the past seven years, I’ve had hundreds of students go through the program and I can tell you on one hand how many went into the military. But I don’t have enough hands to tell you how many went to college,” he said.
JROTC focuses on increasing confidence and self-esteem, leadership, decision-making, problem-solving, and so much more.
“It really brought out some of the personality strengths I didn’t know I had in me,” Steadman said.
“I can learn how to be a leader and how to lead and what it means to have the power because it’s very hard to learn how to lead other people, especially high schoolers,” said Tran.
Infante has learned a lot about himself through this program. “Over the past four years, I’ve been learning to be self-confident, to be a leader, to be a better person than I was the year before.”
C/PFC Yazmine Vega’s mom didn’t want her to join JROTC because she worried that her daughter would be drafted into the Army. Hinson convinced her that was not the case and that the program would make her daughter a better citizen and more responsible.
Vega, a sophomore at Excel, has been a member for a couple of weeks now. The respect is what resonated with her about JROTC. “I like it a lot,” she said.
“JROTC … teaches us as high school students the value of citizenship, leadership, teamwork, service to the community, personal responsibility, and most importantly discipline, which prepares us for the future workforce and society as a whole,” said C/2LT Annastacia Fearon, a junior at Excel. “To me, JROTC is not just an organization or battalion, but it’s more of a family.”
Said Hinson, “We’re the biggest family here.” =
Added Orellana: “JROTC is more than just a class or an organization; it is a family that I know I can trust and that will always have my back no matter what.”
JROTC “helps with their self-confidence, their self-esteem,” Hinson said, “Yeah, we break chops, but it builds them up and makes them stronger … so they are prepared for life.”
Follow the cadets on Instagram @southbostonjrotc