The unarmed competition. These girls have some dynamite moves. I tried to capture them in motion.
The armed exhibition.
"I've seen Black people and White people but I ain't never seen people these colors. Where are y'all from?"
This a comment I heard from a woman in Daytona Beach the year I was fortunate enough to accompany my school's JROTC team to the national championships. My friend and I explained that we were from Queens, New York and our student body had representatives from all over the world. She smiled and walked away. There was no trace of bigotry, just ignorance of different cultures and ethnic groups.
I was reminded of that comment as I attended a JROTC competition in my school today. Our teams are multi-colored. There are students of every race and nationality. There are students who wear traditional Muslim head coverings with their uniforms. It is a sight to behold and one I am fortunate to be part of.
I never used to be a big fan of the JROTC. In fact, this is the understatement of the year. Coming of age during the Viet Nam era has that effect on people. Once I got to know the former soldiers teaching in this program and saw the positive way the program impacted on my students, I changed my tune.
One of my geometry kids is on the armed drill team. He begged me to come watch him. How could I possibly refuse? When he overheard a comment I made about spending the day in the Bronx with my dad he became upset and said, "You promised to come to watch me." I assured him I would make it back in time. His smile went from ear to ear when he saw me walk in. To put it mildly, this boy is not one of my best students. It was a joy to watch him proudly compete in an event he was so proficient in.
I still hate the regimentation of the army. I despise the rifles they throw around. The sergeant in charge of the program calls them sticks, instead of rifles in hope of making me feel better about the program. He is constantly reminding me that they are not real.
Packemin HS is a big, city school which, in spite of my complaints, has lots of different programs to offer its students. We have a diverse population and a wonderful staff and student body. Packemin lacks something smaller, suburban and urban schools have, community school spirit. Aside from the JROTC teachers, no faculty from the school was present. Aside from the kids in the program (and a few of their friends not in the program), other students did not attend. Many of the kids competeing have parents who must work seven days a week, so they could not be there. They missed out on a wonderful opportunity to see some of Packemin's finest in action.