As the sweltering Texas sun soared temperatures well into the 90s during the early morning hours of Saturday, June 25, a unique group of teens forewent sleeping late in exchange for their dress best and parade rest. All considered the top of their class in individual high school Naval Jr. ROTC (NJROTC) programs, the group is a mesh of students from Beaumont ISD, Port Arthur ISD, Houston ISD and other districts part of the Region 10 area.
Roughly 100 students from seven high schools attended the event, all having participated the week prior in the Area 10 Leadership Academy, described by some students as a “mini boot camp” held annually at the BISD Outdoor Education Center located in Lumberton. And, just like boot camp, not all the campers who entered were able to pass the rigorous testing. Each candidate entering the program was evaluated on academics, physical fitness and leadership abilities. Those who passed scrutiny were awarded silver chords to proudly display on their official NJROTC uniforms during an elaborate celebration held in honor of their hard work and accomplishments. Those who couldn’t meet the standards outlined by the program requirements were sent home sans ceremony.
“We have a great bunch out here,” Area 10 Commander Mitch Normand said of the student leaders, the student assistants and adult instructors and assistants attending the June training. “We come out here every year, and these students work very hard to earn their commendations.”
Parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, siblings and friends crowded the open field awaiting their cadet’s final inspection. The crowd’s attendance was rewarded with a grand spectacle of a show, with official presentation of the Parade of Colors, a Pass in Review parade and an opportunity to capture their favorite cadet on camera during one of the highest points in their burgeoning Navy careers.
Among the achievements honored during the ceremony was that of Top Female Cadet Sydney Hathaway, who also earned the distinction of Top Female Athlete; and Top Male Cadet Gabriel Tzoc, likewise winning top athlete in the male division and charting a 6-minute mile to boost his credentials. Both cadets were awarded special medals along with their silver chords, presented to the students by Commander Normand as their family and friends cheered from the sidelines of the ceremony.
Students who have previously completed Leadership Academy and returned to train this new class were also commended for their dedication, with Graduate Assistant Brittany Johnson praised for exceptional mastery of becoming a program leader and camp veteran.
“(Johnson’s) been here every year (of high school), and she has really grown since she started,” Normand said of his prize student. “She’s a senior now, and we’re going to miss her around here. That girl is a real leader, a take charge person, and she’s going to go places.”
Johnson had just as much praise for the Leadership Academy as her Commander did for her.
“It is hard work, but it really is a lot of fun,” she said. “They don’t play when it comes to academics and PT (physical training) but I’m going to miss this place.”