By Greg Grisolano
For Jeff Clyde and his relatives, military service is a family affair.
Clyde, the cadet battalion commander of Joplin High School’s Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) program, is following in the footsteps of his grandfather, who served as a cadet in the same program back in the 1940s, and his mother, Terri Birch, who was a member of Webb City High School’s battalion. His younger brother, Grant, is a sergeant in the Joplin program as well.
“My mom was the first female full-bird colonel of Webb City High School,” he said. “The sense of tradition in the entire city is just amazing. The support of the military is amazing.”
Having her two sons follow in her footsteps is a source of pride for Birch.
“Both of them grew up with me in the Army,” she said. “I know that it’s a good living, and it’s an amazing opportunity. It’s something they’re not going to get anywhere else.”
Clyde was one of dozens of students taking part in drill exercises and marching exhibitions at Memorial Hall on Saturday to celebrate the 90th anniversary of Joplin’s JROTC program. The program provides leadership training for young men and women in high school, and can serve as a precursor to military officer training.
“I plan on making it a career,” said Clyde, who has an ROTC scholarship to Missouri State University in Springfield. “I want to be an Apache helicopter pilot.”
The event also included an exhibition by the U.S. Army Old Guard drill team. The soldiers also worked individually with cadets to improve their poise and precision on drill routines.
The Old Guard Drill Team is the escort to the president, guards the Tomb of the Unknowns and performs military honors for funerals in Arlington National Cemetery. The soldiers are charged with maintaining the traditions of the Army, and showcasing those traditions to the world during state and federal funerals and parades.
Joplin JROTC senior instructor Maj. James Osborn said having the Old Guard on hand to instruct the cadets was a tremendous honor.
“It’s just like having the Super Bowl team come down and work with the high-school football team,” he said. “That’s the level of training we’re getting here.”
Osborn, who has been affiliated with Joplin’s program since 1990, credits support from the administration and his fellow instructors, 1st Sgts. Richard Polley and Richard Banks, with helping to keep up the prestige and tradition of one of the nation’s oldest continuous officer training programs.
“Ours is one of the largest programs in the state,” he said. “I owe a great deal of that success of our program to the instructors and also to the superb support we get from the administration.”
Joplin has about 300 students a year in its high-school JROTC program. It has had as many as 500 students in the past. It currently has four drill teams with a total of about 50 students. The other schools participating in the event Saturday included McDonald County, Webb City, Monett, Republic, Nevada and Neosho.
McDonald County High School senior Ernie Smith is another student who plans to use his ROTC experience as part of his college education. Like Clyde, Smith said he plans to attend MSU in Springfield next fall.
“We’ve got 115 cadets in our program,” he said. “I got into this because I wanted to be an infantry officer.”
By Greg Grisolano
- Joplin Metro
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