READING, Pa. - Retired Army Lt. Col. Wendell May had a choice: he could attempt to change history or influence the future.
In 2007, May, the former inspector general of Pennsylvania, was asked to consider going to Afghanistan to help set up the Afghan national inspector general agency. That same year, May was also asked to become the senior Army instructor for Woodrow Wilson High School’s first Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps (JROTC) in Reading, Pa.
He was leaning toward going to Afghanistan until his son posed an interesting question.
“I told my son I was leaning toward going to Afghanistan,” said May. “But then he posed a question that really made me think: Do you want to try to change history in Afghanistan or do you want to influence the future?”
In that moment, May said he realized he wanted to focus on the future and not the past. The JROTC program at Wilson High School officially began in 2008 with 30 students, which has since grown to a membership of more than 130 students and has seen more than 600 students go through the program.
“These cadets really get plugged in,” said May. “This has become a great mentorship program for students. We are like a family, as they find a sense of belonging.”
May also said he attributes the rapid success of the program to the overwhelming support from the school and community.
“We did have to gain the trust of the school at first,” said May. “I think they were a little leery because they didn’t really know what the program was all about, but once we told them about our mission and they saw the positive impact it was having in their school, they gave us all the support.”
The motto of the JROTC program is to motivate young people to be better citizens. The main focus of the program is to teach leadership and management skills to young people. Students are appointed leadership roles and must manage their peers during morning formations, uniform inspections, class instruction and physical fitness training.
One of those leaders is Matthew Amidon, a senior and student command sergeant major (CSM) for the JROTC program. Amidon is also part of the Army’s Delayed-Entry Program and will leave for training in July to become a combat diver.
“It is kind of a family tradition,” said Amidon. “My father, uncle and both grandfathers were all in the military.”
Amidon said his role as student CSM encourages him to motivate students to be leaders at school and superior young citizens in their communities.
“We are very involved in the community,” said Amidon. “This year alone, we will have done 187 events with over 10,000 hours of community service completed.”
The Veterans Appreciation Dinner Dance is one of those events that occur every year in November. The goal of the event is to recognize veterans and help raise money for various agencies that assist veterans in the community.
“Through this event, I learned that often the best thing you can do for a veteran is listen,” said Amidon. “I remember spending some time with one veteran who told me this was the best he had been treated in 40 years.”
Thursday, March 6 was a senior skip day. Amidon was one of those rebellious seniors but for a whole different reason. Since he has a heart for veterans and their needs, he decided to spend his skip day helping veterans.
The 326th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment kicked off its Military Veterans Stand Down at the GoggleWorks Center for the Arts in Reading, Pa., March 6. This is the first in Berks County to be led by an Army Reserve unit. The primary purpose of the three-day event was to provide essential services to veterans, many of whom are homeless. Such services included providing food and clothing, career resources and medical services.
Amidon and some fellow cadets came to serve. They performed the color guard during the opening ceremony, handed out food and clothing, while listening to the stories of veterans along the way.
May said approximately 20 percent of the school’s cadets end up joining the military, which means that the majority of young people in the JROTC program will be great leaders in their communities sooner rather than later.
“I don’t worry about the future anymore,” said May. “I feel better about tomorrow.”