Several years ago, while doing a Skype session about my book, The Wave, with a 9th grade class in Mississippi, I noticed that among the students sitting at their desks, half a dozen were wearing uniforms comprised of a light blue shirt and dark slacks. I asked the students about their uniforms, and they told me that they members of their high school’s unit of the U.S. Army Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps (JROTC).
I was not familiar with the JROTC but it struck me as curious that an organization sponsored by the United States Military would be allowed in a public school to solicit members who were 14 and 15 years old. That is, students who were still basically children.
It raised questions in my mind: At what age should the US military be allowed to begin the indoctrination of young people? Is someone at the age of 14 or 15 mature enough to comprehend the life and death implications of a career track that might eventually lead to going to war?
I began to do research and quickly learned a number of facts that I found personally disturbing, including the discovery that I was wrong to think that military indoctrination in schools begins as young as 14 years old. Thanks to a program called the National Middle School Cadet Corps (NMSCC), there are nearly 100 middle schools in this country that allow indoctrination to begin at the age of 11, or younger if the student has an older sibling already in the program. The majority of these middle school programs are located in the states of Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Texas.
Here’s some more information about JROTC:
1) There are roughly 3,000 JROTC units in high schools in the United States. These units represent all branches of the military.
2) Most schools that offer JROTC allow students to substitute it for their physical education classes. Furthermore, here’s a National Institute of Health article that found that participants in JROTC were required to do significantly less physical activity than those in a typical high school PE class.
3) In any given year, somewhere between 30% and 50% of JROTC enrollees enlist in the armed services after high school.
4) The JROTC and the National Rifle Association (NRA) enjoy a cozy relationship. While weapons training is not allowed in most schools, JROTC units frequently receive NRA grants for air rifles, spotting scopes, and pellets. In addition, JROTC members are encouraged to participate in NRA shooting matches. (Air rifles have come a long way from the BB guns we shot as kids. Today’s air rifles are often designed to look very similar to the various models of M16s currently in use in the military).