How JROTC Cadets are Coping with COVID

Waking up an hour earlier to craft the perfect bun, paying for a haircut every Tuesday afternoon, staying at school a few extra periods to manage a team; all tedious tasks that a JROTC cadet at Francis Lewis High School is familiar with. Cadets have dedicated countless hours to gain merit in the JROTC program, and the last few months of school are crucial in commemorating their hard work. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many highly anticipated events and team competitions to be canceled, and every cadet has faced some form of loss.

“The Class of 2020 can all agree that our senior year was stripped away from us,” said Cadet Captain Sarah Amplo. “The events that we dreamed of, that we saw our past senior friends partake in, and enjoy, and the events that kept us going will remain as just dreams. I’ll always keep the memories I made close to my heart but I’m still grieving over the precious memories that could have been. We all worked so hard to have our time to shine, only for it to be reduced to nothing.”

Seniors in JROTC have undoubtedly faced extreme disappointment, as their years of working their way up in the ranks have come crashing down. Seniors who have been in the program for four years have gained some kind of leadership role in the battalion, whether it is the commander of a company, team, staff, or platoon; each a different subsection of JROTC. Even with a pandemic, however, they are still expected to uphold their positions and continue leading their respective subordinates.

“Senior year has been ruined basically,” said Cadet Captain Manjyot Rataul  “The last couple months of our high school lives are very important. This is the time that we must spend as much as we can with our friends. But because of the quarantine, everything has been limited.”

As Cadet Major Gregory Steward, the battalion’s executive officer agreed.

“This is definitely an unprecedented setback in all 26 years since the program was created and we will still be recovering from it in the next school year.”

The second half of the school year is meant to create a solid foundation for the upcoming year’s student leaders. Seniors are not the only ones who have been affected, as juniors must prepare for their future leadership positions under difficult circumstances and freshmen have lost many significant experiences.

“This has impacted my JROTC experience because I won’t be able to be a Cadet Corporal in my freshman year and I won’t be able to try to get my [Drill Team] cord until Sophomore year,” said Cadet Private First Class Mathew Afzali, a freshman in JROTC.

Along with academic achievement, JROTC is also known for its teams. Francis Lewis’ JROTC program offers six teams: Academic, Choir, Unarmed Drill Team, Armed Drill Team, Drum Corps, and Honor Guard. Each team is overseen by an Army Instructor and a set of student leaders, who are all making an effort to deal with this quarantine as efficiently as possible. Teams, such as the Academic and Drill team, face the tremendous loss of participating in competitions that they have worked toward for countless hours.

“It affected [Academic] team negatively because their motivation levels decreased and they don’t feel like it’s necessary to still do work for the team, but the commanders are trying their best to still incorporate everyone and keep them motivated,” said Cadet First Lieutenant Nandy Zheng. “It’s also extremely upsetting that JLAB is canceled and the competing members won’t be able to experience it.”

The Academic Team competes in JLAB (JROTC Leadership & Academic Bowl) each year, dedicating numerous weekends, holidays, and after school hours to prepare. To have this taken from them is extremely discouraging and disappointing. Another team undergoing the loss of their competition is Drill Team. While some competitions have been moved onto an online format event, students do not obtain the full experience and are forced to be out of practice for an extensive amount of time.

“As a commander of the Patriot Pride Unarmed Drill team, it’s evident to me that I left my team with a massive disadvantage,” said Cadet Captain Amplo. “The seniors were supposed to pass down the knowledge, but being that our national competition has been canceled, and practices are no more, it’s virtually impossible to pass this knowledge to an unmotivated and upset team in a motivating way. The seniors will never have our last Nationals and we left Daytona last year with regrets. We’ll never have that moment of redemption or the opportunity to say goodbye to Daytona one last time.”

Despite all the commotion that JROTC cadets have faced, its students have been making an effort to maintain a positive mindset, picking up new hobbies and distracting themselves with more work. All of us have dealt with some form of loss under these new circumstances, from exhilarating freshman experiences to senior memories that can never be replaced. In these moments of hardship, it is clear that a majority of cadets have continued to carry themselves with dignity and resilience as they persist and work together to make the rest of the 2020 school year bearable.

“To every cadet that’s reading this, don’t be discouraged by the virus,” advised Cadet Major Steward. “Know that this virus has not come to stay, and we will overcome this together. Take your free time now to work on yourself and your goals. Remember that leaders find opportunity in every difficult situation.”