WHS Air Force JROTC Impacts Students, Community
The motto of the Air Force Junior ROTC (AFJROTC) is “Building Better Citizens for America” and Waller High School’s (WHS) program is a shining example of that. The program’s goal is to instill values of citizenship, service to the United States, personal responsibility, and sense of accomplishment. There are over 100 cadets enrolled in WHS AFJROTC this school year.
Each year, the focus of the program changes every year so lessons will never be stagnant and student learning is continuous. This year, the WHS AFJROTC is focused on Leadership Education and Aerospace Science. As part of the curriculum, upperclassmen participated in survivalist training. Other content areas have included Air Force History and Leadership 100.
WHS AFJROTC cadets are given opportunities to further their training in co-curricular activities such as Drill Team and Color Guard. The girls unarmed Phantom Drill team is an award winning team that earned first place in the 2017 National High School Drill Team Championship in Daytona Beach, Florida and took third place in 2018. New to the program is the Marksmanship team and the boys armed Warhawks Drill team. These teams are always on the move and continuously practicing in preparation for National Competition. With the exception of WHS Band, they spend the most hours outside of school practicing.
The WHS AFJROTC program is led by retired United States Air Force (USAF) Master Sergeant Joel Barnett and retired USAF Lieutenant Colonel Byrl Engle. Barnett has taught at WHS for eight years while Engle is in his sixth year as an AFJROTC instructor, first year at WHS. When questioned why they decided to become AFJROTC instructors, each responded with their desire to help students.
“I enjoy seeing the students’ growth throughout high school and hopefully I’ve played an important part in their lives. That is the main reason I do the job,” Engle said.
“For me, it is to help students be better citizens, more respectful, improve their outlook on life, and give them a sense of purpose,” Barnett said. “I’ll never forget the feeling of watching the first class I taught from ninth through twelfth grade walk across the stage at graduation. It’s a special feeling.”
In May 2018, Barnett was awarded Outstanding Instructor of the Year by the Air Force. Every three years, instructors are evaluated based on their efforts in helping their unit reach goals and overall unit performance. The award is given to those instructors who are described as the “Best of the Best” and represent the highest examples of the Air Force Core Values.
“I 100 percent received the award because the cadets did their job that day. It was all them.” Barnett said.
The best part of WHS AFJROTC is the talent and dedication of the cadets. They all bring unique personalities to the program. When asked why they joined, every student gives a different reason. One prime example is WHS senior Vanessa Martinez. Martinez, along with her best friend, joined not because they were interested in the military or JROTC, but because it was the only class they could take together. The decision has impacted them greatly.
“I enjoyed the class right off the bat because I got to spend time with my friends...it has made me more responsible and it has helped me further help others,” Martinez said. “It has been a life changing experience that I will never regret.”
Martinez is now the WHS AFJROTC Operations Group Commander as well as a member of the Phantom Drill and Marksmanship teams. Outside of AFJROTC, she is currently ranked in the top five of her class and is taking all Advanced Placement courses this year. Her future goal is to be accepted into the Air Force Academy.
“We get a wide variety of students joining for their own reasons and we struck lightning with her,” Barnett said.
The WHS AFJROTC is also very active in the Waller community. They are regularly called on to present the flags at events and ceremonies. They also partner with local organizations and events, such as the Waller Chamber of Commerce, to fundraise.
In August 2018, WWII veteran Travis Winfree presented a check for $400 to the Waller AFJROTC on behalf of the local Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW). Winfree expressed his appreciation for the tremendous support provided by WHS AFJROTC cadets during the Memorial Day in May 2018. The donation was deposited into the unit's Activities Fund to help support upcoming cadet field trips and activities.
The main thing Barnett and Engle want students, parents, and the community to know about AFJROTC is every student is welcomed whether they are interested in joining the military or not, there is a place for all.
“You can find something you like in AFJROTC...there no need to be athletic or academically gifted...there is a place for you. Everybody fits.” Barnett said.