News: JROTC cadets learn to surmount fear, limits at JBER towers
Story by David Bedard
JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska - During last week’s JROTC Cadet Leadership Challenge summer camp at JBER, cadets leapt out of the 34-foot jump tower, traversed the 35-foot rappel tower, rode by the open doors of UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, learned survival-swimming skills and successfully negotiated a grueling obstacle course.
Retired Army Lt. Col. Butch Diotte, Colony High School JROTC senior Army instructor, said because almost all of the events involve overcoming the natural fear of heights through faith in their equipment and newly acquired skills, cadets were challenged to break through the barriers of their perceived limits.
“It’s a challenge for a lot of the cadets,” Diotte said. “It challenges them physically and mentally – instills mental toughness.
“During the jump tower, some cadets had concerns and fears, but they overcame them,” he continued. “Now, their confidence is much improved.”
One Colony cadet, clad in parachute harness, helmet and dummy reserve parachute, froze in the door when she could see just how high above the ground she was.
It wasn’t long before her fellow cadets gathered at the bottom of the tower to encourage her.
After a few minutes of nearly jumping before recoiling back into the door, the cadet stepped out – dropping several feet before the parachute risers countered the unforgiving force of gravity.
Wild cheers broke out among her fellow cadets, a confident smile beamed across her face as she was extracted from the harness.
The fear is something Cadet Cannon Jurrens, Bartlett High School cadet battalion commander, said she can identify with.
For her, it was willfully lowering herself over the precipice of the rappel tower and assuming a good L-shape before bounding 35 feet to safety.
“I cried the first time I rappelled off the tower,” Jurrens said with a laugh. “But now, it’s really easy, and I think it helps me with the rest of my life. I’m not scared to do a lot of other things that I would have been scared to do, because I know I’m capable of doing that.
“Cadets get to face their fears,” she continued. “They get more confidence. They get to learn structure and learn a little bit of discipline.”
Structure is a subject that comes up quite often in JROTC circles during JCLC. Diotte said cadets are organized like an Army battalion, complete with a cadet staff, companies, platoons and squads.
“A lot of the kids need structure in their life,” the colonel said. “Some of the kids – when they come in their freshman year – are brand new to the whole discipline thing. It takes them awhile to figure it out. But you would be to see the improvement after one year.
“You’ll have a wise guy starting out in the fall, but by spring he’s one that’s a squad leader who’s giving orders because he’s matured. It’s a good structure.”
Diotte, a career CH-47 Chinook helicopter pilot, recently retired after serving as the U.S. Army Alaska aviation officer.
He said the most rewarding assignment of his career was a tour as an ROTC instructor at Penn State University. He pursued an instructorship at Colony High School because he enjoys helping to mold the character of youth within a military framework.
Despite the established framework, Diotte said JROTC is not a recruiting tool for the military. The mission of the program, he said, is to “motivate young people to be better citizens.” In support of the mission, Diotte said JROTC emphasizes community-service events throughout the year.
“Everything we do is citizenship based,” he said.
Jurrens said – though she joined JROTC to help with college applications – the appeal of the discipline and structure quickly helped her decide to pursue a military officer’s commission. She has applied to all of the military service academies as well as to Dartmouth, Stanford and Harvard.
Throughout the week, cadets received instruction, facilities and range support from Alaska Army National Guard and USARAK Soldiers. Diotte said he feels fortunate to be near a base that can support a robust JCLC.
“The facilities are really great here at JBER,” he said. “We’ve had nothing but superb support from both the active duty and the National Guard.”