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Ola High acquires Air Force JROTC Unit

Ola High School will be the latest facility in the Henry County School System to have an Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (AFJROTC) Program, school officials confirmed Monday.

"I'm very excited about the program," said Lt. Col. Michael Brown, Ola's AFJROTC Unit Commander. "It gives me the opportunity to continue mentoring the youth. I'm helping groom them to become productive citizens."

Henry County, Stockbridge, Eagle's Landing, Union Grove, and Luella high schools, have a Navy JROTC Program, while Dutchtown and Ola high schools have an Air Force JROTC Program, according to John Uesseler, Henry's coordinator of Career, Technical, and Agricultural Education (CTAE) programs. Woodland High, which opened in 2007, and Locust Grove High, which opened in 2009, do not have the junior military training programs. Woodland and Locust Grove both were built with space to facilitate potential JROTC Programs.

"The [school] board has provided quality facilities for the operations of ROTC programs, and our long history of commitment to the programs has enhanced our ability to acquire ROTC units," said Tony Pickett, Henry's executive assistant to the Office of the Superintendent.

"We are very excited to open an Air Force JROTC Program at Ola High," said Ola High School Principal Ross Iddings. "After spending four and a half years on waiting lists, we are thrilled that it is becoming a reality.

"I know that we have many more students that will be joining at the beginning of the 2011-12 school year," the principal said. "We are so glad to see the level of commitment our students and their parents. I look for great things from the Ola High Air Force JROTC."

ROTC Unit Commander Brown will begin work Wednesday, in developing the AFJROTC Program and Unit along with Senior Master Sergeant Torrence McGhee.

The program kicks off on Jan. 6, the first day of the second semester, but has already enrolled 112 would-be cadets, noted Rick Marinaccio, lead school counselor at Ola.

"There's a lot of excitement here at Ola," said Marinaccio. "We are opening this up to all students. They've been anticipating and hoping for a program for quite some time now."

The school system recently received notification from Headquarters AFJROTC at Maxwell Air Force Base near Montgomery, Ala., that the mid-year startup program would be available.

Ola has been waiting for the opportunity to have a JROTC Program since it opened in 2006, according to Marinaccio. Most of its students were rezoned, then, from high schools with a Navy JROTC Program — including a majority from Henry County High and Luella High, as well as some from Union Grove High.

The school counselor said he believes the program will add to the school's current learning environment academically, along with teaching life skills and building students' self-esteem.

"Part of the value in having an ROTC Program is it gives students another outlet from what is normally given," he said. "You get an opportunity to develop a skill set that you would not get in a normal academic school setting."

Approximately 1,080 JROTC cadets in the school system currently take advantage of that opportunity, according to Uesseler, Henry's coordinator of CTAE programs.

"It expands the opportunities for students to learn some valuable life-skills to make them successful when they go out into the real world," explained Uesseler. "[Also,] it adds a whole lot more opportunities for students to be enrolled in a career tech program."

The JROTC Program, he added, is one of 20 different career tech programs offered to 12,900 high schoolers in the school system.

The career tech coordinator said the school system is continuing to make program applications with the Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Army, in pursuit of military JROTC units for two of the system's remaining high schools without a JROTC Program.