JROTC keeps pushing forward as national championship nears

by Sean Dunlap

The Franklin County High School Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps — in one of its last remaining tune-ups before national competition — took overall first-place honors in the Rankin County drill competition held on Saturday, March 25.

Eight of the 10 Bulldog Battalion units placed in the event with each JROTC participant taking part in no less than two formations.

For retired Col. Lynn Pippen, who serves as FCHS JROTC instructor, the recent drill event had a deep, personal meaning.

“I taught at Brandon High School from 2013 through the graduating class of 2017 and have maintained a great relationship with the Rankin County School District,” Pippen said.

“Last year, Brandon hosted its first-ever drill competition and even though we were an out-of-district school, we received an invitation to participate.

“This year, the event was opened up to schools state-wide, and I think we were the only out-of-district program participating.”

Pippen also noted the side-benefit from the meet was to provide some work as Franklin County’s JROTC polishes its final preparations for national competition this May in Florida.

“We feel like we’re walking a tightrope at times,” he said of the program’s preparations. “There is a balance between pushing too hard or not pushing hard enough ... at this point in the school year, there are a lot of academic and activity demands on our cadets.

“The thing we have to keep in mind is that our students are stretched pretty thin, but to be competitive at a national championship, we have to continue to sharpen the blade, so to speak.”

Pippen said he and fellow JROTC instructor Marjorie De La Garza have taken what he refers to as a delicate approach in keeping the focus where it needs to be for those in their charge.

“With certainty, I can say the cadets are really excited and continue to work hard toward their ultimate objective, but we also want to prevent burn-out.”

The invitational competition was also an opportunity for Pippen and De La Garza to begin focusing on the future of the local JROTC initiative by moving some new faces into leadership roles.

“We had some underclassmen step into key commanding roles, which meant asking our senior leaders to take a step back,” he went on to say.

“The leadership among our juniors and sophomores makes us excited for the future of the program and how far we can progress in the years to come.”

Despite the school year beginning to ramp down, Pippen said the JROTC program has stayed on a fairly steady pace with other cadet initiatives — namely the “Raider Challenge.”

“Raider is offered to all JROTC programs and is designed to create an elite team among the corps of cadets,” he went on to say.

“For Franklin County, we hold a day-long event that put all of those who aspire to be part of this team in an intense time of emotional, physical and mental challenge.

“This program begins with a physical fitness test — things like upper body strength, cardiovascular and flexibility — and those who do not make the bare minimum standards see their journey to become a Raider end.”

Still, Pippen said the most valuable aspect of Raider Challenge is resilience, and those who do not successfully complete the physical portion of the exercise must continue.

“The program also focuses on technical military skills under intense pressure, including a five-mile backpack march within a certain time frame and some ability to execute precision drills.

“The bottom line is that a Raider must possess a fine attention to detail — and there is no better way to measure that than through precision drills.”

Pippen said the FCHS JROTC teamed with their peers from Lawrence County High School, which is hoping to launch its own “Raider Challenge” in the future.

“Between the two schools, there were eight cadets who made the cut — and everyone did well, even those who did not make it this time,” he added.

Pippen said what keeps him putting his boots on every day as a JROTC instructor is the challenge of helping young men and women reach their potential.

“I feel like I have served my country more in the last nine years teaching JROTC than during my final years on active duty,” he commented.

“I see the need in our culture to have responsible young citizens, who don’t fall by the wayside every time life gets hard.”