TOWAMENCIN — North Penn junior Lorna Loughery always knew that she wanted to do something with aeronautical engineering, and when her 9th-grade counselor recommended JROTC to her, she decided to take it. Since then, she has never looked back.
Last month, Loughery placed first in the SAR JROTC Cadet Essay Contest. The contest was about how JROTC has made her a better citizen of the United States. All juniors were required to enter the contest and they were given a month to work on it. She worked on it every time she felt like she was in the best place and every time she had a small idea, she would write it down. Those small gestures eventually helped her succeed.
“I was very shocked. I got the notification at about 6 in the morning. I rolled over and I saw the email and I was like, ‘no way. This is insane’ because one of our cadets won it last year, and I didn’t think my essay could be nearly as good as his, but apparently so,” Loughery said.
Joining JROTC was the best decision Loughery has ever made. Winning this contest just shows how much of an impact it had on her and all of her hard work ended up being worth it
“It is beyond worth it. Every single moment that I have given to JROTC has given me so much more back and it’s full of so many more opportunities. Being able to take advantage of that has been absolutely incredible,” Lougher said.
Unlike all of the other essays she’s had to write in her life, this was one the most personal one.
“It’s very unique being able to write about something personal. In a lot of classes, you’re asked to write a narrative or think about one particular thing in your life that has helped you. In this JROTC essay, it was more about your experiences towards a common thing among multiple people. So multiple people are writing about how their lives have been impacted by JROTC and it was very interesting reading some of my peers’ essays and their opinions and having that wide variety of understanding between people,” Loughery said.
For Loughery, JROTC has given her all of the greatest life skills like public speaking, teamwork building, and leadership. They often organize events where the cadets can utilize those skills. She had the opportunity to attend the Cadet Leadership Course (CLC) during the summer which mirrored boot camp.
“You really learn to rely on other people and you build this sense of family that is unique to any other club or even a class that you’re a part of because you walk in and the person sitting next to you is there for the same reason you are,” Loughery said.
Some of her favorite memories from JROTC are the different Veterans Day events where the cadets go to local nursing homes or community centers to perform color guards for the people there.
“It’s amazing seeing a room full of people all stand and sing the National Anthem and it’s that level of unity that is indescribable,” Loughery said.
Loughery learned to be a leader in JROTC, but she also learned to be a follower, which is just as important.
“The program is set up so you learn to make mistakes, but you also learn how to grow from that. From the beginning, you have those leadership opportunities available to you and the path that you take as a cadet is very unique and being able to have people who will support you throughout your leadership journey—that is something that I will take away the most: how to get people to follow you,” Loughery said.
A typical day varies for each cadet. For Loughery, she starts her day off with drill teams. She wakes up early and is at the high school by 5:45 every day of the week. They do different drill teams and she leads unarmed exhibitions, regulations, and inspections. At around 7 AM, she heads off to her other classes. She has JROTC 6th period and when she walks into class, as soon as the bell rings, she and the other cadets wait about 10 seconds after and then shut the door. They have a Class Sergeant and a Class Commander who are responsible for attendance and general announcements. They call the room to parade rest to take attendance and they report the number of absentees to their chief and major. Regular classes have a leadership development portion or a textbook portion which are taught by one of the instructors. Loughery is currently taking frontiers of aviation, so she’s learning flight from its very beginning point of time to its current point in time. For the leadership portion, she learns about how to work with different types of people. She has to identify the different work skills and work ethics of different people and incorporate that into what she knows about her own leadership abilities. On Fridays, they have delegation days or leadership labs. Delegation days are days where they do section work. Each cadet has his or her own job within their unit to learn to have some responsibility. Cadets could catch up on anything they’re behind on or work on anything that needs to be prepared for any upcoming event. For the leadership labs, they’re different tasks such as trying to get from one side of the room to the other while meeting certain challenges. Two cadets run it and the entire class participates. It allows them to form bonds with each other by problem-solving.
When Loughery first joined JROTC, she was assigned to be the Class Sergeant.
“On that first day, everyone felt so nervous. I remember that I was kind of shaking when I was calling those names. You begin to learn a lot about each other. The class is very unique and as you progress, you become more personal with your instructor and more personal with your cadets, and nowadays, when I walk in I say hello to everybody because we all know each other so well. When we see each other in the hallways, we give each other high-fives. You might not even know the cadet, but you’re wearing the same uniform, so you feel like you know each other so much more personally,” Loughery said.
Compared to her other classes, she knows everyone personally and they all have better relationships with each other.
“You’ll have the same instructors the whole time you’re going through JROTC. Your instructor knows you and you know them and that’s so unique having that personal bond that you’re not going to have in other classes. There’s no other class that you’re going to walk into your second year and know everyone in there—knowing that you have a bunch of friends and people to fall your back on is unique to any other class and the life skills that are integrated into JROTC like how to conduct an interview, how to write a resume, how to balance a check—all of these are integrated into the program and curriculum and that’s not something that I have found in any other class. Also, there are different drill teams and activities that you can perform before or after school, opportunities to volunteer and get out into the community, we take trips and we see amazing things. That’s honestly incredibly unique beyond words. It’s completely different than what you’re going to find in other classes,” Loughery explained.
The hardest thing she has ever had to overcome was being a group commander as a junior which is the highest position in their unit and is reserved for rising seniors.
“I received it as a rising junior. I met a lot of challenges that I had to face without that extra year of knowledge to fall back on, but I was able to overcome it by relying on my instructors and my fellow cadets. It’s very different leading 3 people or 30 people compared to 100 and that was very challenging because you’re not always going to make everyone happy and you have to do your best,” Loughery said.
Leadership opportunities come when you look for them. Sergeants and Commanders are responsible for the class. If you’re an Officer in Charge (OIC), you are in charge of one section that does their own task. They could be in charge of 3 people and be a leader that way. Cadets can also progress to become a Squadron Commander who is in charge of multiple sections and can lead up to 30 people. Then, there’s the upper leaderships, the top 4, who are in charge of overseeing the whole unit. You can also be a leader in the Colorguard where you call all of the commands.
Working towards receiving those positions requires putting yourself out there and following your tasks efficiently. Every year, they run through different jobs and allow cadets to move around for whatever reason. Cadets can reapply for new positions. Officers are required to complete a test and are given a uniform inspection and have to perform drill units. Once a year, they shift all of the upper leaderships.
The only requirement that the program has is that cadets must wear their uniforms every Wednesday.
“While JROTC is a program provided by the military, it’s not military-run. We only wear it once a week just as a reminder to be like here is what the Air Force is doing for high school students to give them all these opportunities. We change it up, so our blues uniform which is the fancy looking one, we wear that 3 times a month and we wear the camouflage once a month because not all units are required to wear the camouflage one known as the ABU,” Loughery said.
Every time Loughery wears her uniform, she feels empowered.
“It’s incredible putting on your uniform and looking at yourself in the mirror and knowing that you’re representing over 200 years of individuals who fought and defended for your country and for the Air Force since 1947. I had family that’s been in the United States since the 1700s, so when I put on the uniform, I represent them. I represent those who fought and defended the nation so we could get out the next day. When you wear the uniform, it’s the sense of pride and respect because those little things of making sure your ribbons look nice or making sure your tie is tied correctly, while they are minor, it contributes to the greater whole,” Loughery said.
“It also plays a part of what JROTC does. It teaches you that taking those steps and the little things will help in the long run and the bigger picture. It’s incredible putting on that uniform and knowing that people are going to look at you with, sometimes a little bit of a weird face, but that level of respect,” Loughery said.
One big stereotype about JROTC is that all cadets must join the military or that it’s only for if you want to join the military. Although the program offers many opportunities to help you join the military, it offers other resources for jobs outside the military.
Every morning, Loughery looks forward to being with her fellow cadets.
“Seeing everyone’s smiles is amazing. Walking into class and high-fiving or having a conversation with your whole flight is amazing. It’s the class I look forward to in the day because it’s the most welcoming. The environment is so welcoming and inclusive,” Loughery said.
Since the shutdown occurred, her days are spent differently. She doesn’t have to wake up as early, so she sleeps about an hour or two later. JROTC now meets virtually every Tuesday and since their plans for this year have been canceled, they are working on what they can do next year.
Since joining JROTC, it has become a major part of her life.
“I’m always trying to think of something I can do for JROTC. I’ve tried to take full advantage of the opportunities it provides. JROTC has become a huge part of my life whether that is socially or physically. It’s something when I started off, right from the get-go, I wanted to fully commit to JROTC and I treated my job as more of an actual one,” Loughery said.
After winning the SAR JROTC Cadet Essay Contest, she will now move on to the national level. For now, she will be attending a ceremony in July in Erie and will have a sit-down dinner with veterans and the Sons of American Revolution chapter in America.
In the future, she hopes to attend the Air Force Academy. If she is unable to attend it, she hopes to attend ROTC at the college level.
JROTC is a program with a community of people who want to help you find your path in life.
“You can write your own story, you can make your own path throughout the program. If you’re lost and you don’t know what you want to do after high school, JROTC is great because you learn to create networks and you meet different people in the community who will help you and now is the time to make those mistakes in high school,” Loughery said.
“I would like to thank everyone who has helped me throughout my journey because there’s been many times where I’ve gotten stuck and not know what to do whether it’s a JROTC thing or a general thing that I’m going through in life. They’ve provided me with tools and tips that have helped me,” Loughery added.