BULLHEAD CITY — High school students who are part of Mohave High School’s Air Force Junior ROTC program learn how to do more than march in formation, present colors and spin rifles.
“I enjoy the interaction with the community and helping people who need us,” said Ethan Ferrian, a senior and cadet major in command of the Civil Engineering Squadron. “We didn’t have a program like this in Minnesota.”
Ferrian credits the program with helping him decide on a direction after high school.
“Since being here and getting into the program, I’ve gotten my life on track,” he said. “I’ve fallen in love with the program. I got introduced to different recruiters, which lead me to finding out what I want to do when I get out of high school. I want to go into the Navy as a nuclear engineer.”
Along with the regimented, military-based procedures and protocol expected, these young adults are learning life lessons, gaining confidence in themselves and developing respect for their fellow humans.
The program is multi-tiered and varied so students are constantly challenged at every turn.
“Honestly, there are a lot of opportunities to lead and really develop as a leader,” said Alex Westwood, a senior and cadet lieutenant colonel deputy corps commander. “Learning how to manage people is something I think is going to go a long way in my career. I’ve currently been accepted to ASU to study financial planning. I’m also doing four years of ROTC there so I can commission as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force.”
Getting students to see the benefits of such a program can be difficult, instructors said.
“The program itself is just amazing,” said Major Earl W. Davis, senior aerospace science instructor. “I just wish more kids realized what you can get out of this program. Parents love the program, but a lot of kids hate wearing the uniform — ‘I don’t want to have to do my hair, I don’t want to wear a uniform.’ I remind the parents, they’re in charge.”
Davis teaches along side Master Sgt. Travis Al Wilcox, also an aerospace science instructor.
“Our official count is 102 students in the program right now,” Davis said. “We start out teaching them values, morals, and ethics the first year. We’ll also give them some Air Force history, and history of aviation — from Chinese kites to the Montgolfier brothers in France with their hot air balloons, the Wright brothers, on up through a little bit of WWII.”
Aviation history is only the beginning of this multifaceted program.
“The second year we get into communication skills — where it’s intro, body, conclusion — you hit your main points with some transitions in between, and then I ask them, ‘is that a speech or a paper?’ It’s the same thing and it kind of clicks for them. I concentrate more on the public speaking portion than I do the writing. I say, ‘If you can write the speech, you can write a paper.’ It helps build their self-confidence.”
Developing public speaking skills will serve them throughout their lives, Davis said.
“As we go through each day, I make them read out of the book and they have to present it like an extemporaneous speech,” he said. “This is a chance for them to practice their non-verbal skills — hand gestures, eye contact, where to stand.”
The third year is all about the fun stuff, planes and how to fly them, along with the practical stuff necessary to get through the day-to-day.
“We talk aviation, specifically how airplanes fly and what all the gauges really mean on the cockpit,” Davis said.
Students have an opportunity to practice in the program’s flight simulator.
“I give ’em a little practical test where we’ll dial up the airport, Laughlin-Bullhead, and they can pick any airplane they want, as long as it has a propeller on it,” Davis said. “They have to taxi out from the apron, down the taxiway without running into the grass or anything like that, take off, circle down behind the casinos and come back in headed north and land, then taxi back and park the airplane.”
More advanced students have a little fun with it. Davis may challenge them to flip a P-51 as they fly above the Colorado River, demonstrating precision flying, he said.
“I want them to be more than just throttle to the firewall and how fast will it go,” Davis said.
Handling and flying various aircraft could very well be a metaphor for handling what life throws at them, too.
“The third year, we also work on life skills — how to find jobs, what bills you can expect, bank accounts, credit card debt and how to avoid it, how to build your credit, terms like equity, compound interest, all these different things, what a CD is, a savings bond and how that works, how to invest while not giving out stock tips per se,” he explained. “We also talk about the space program, the solar system, understanding distances and the U.S. space program.”
At the end of the third year, the cadets have to put their acquired skills to work and present a resume, cover letter and an “elevator speech.”
“I also let them know, when they’re out looking for jobs or part-time jobs, if they wear their uniform, they’re going to get hired. I guarantee that,” Davis added. “If they let the employer know they are in ROTC or they wear the uniform, they’re the number one pick because we have such a good reputation.”
By year four, cadets have to share what they’ve learned.
“The fourth year cadets then become our teacher’s assistants for each of the classes. They show students how to stand at attention, saluting and all that kind of stuff. And what they don’t realize is that’s actually one of the hardest years, if not the hardest because now you’re out front having to use all the skills that you’ve learned,” Davis said. “I hope you were paying attention, ‘cause now you have all these bright-eyed first-year cadets going ‘how do I do this, and what about that?’ Oh, and when you wear your uniform, it better be flawless because they are looking at you. If you let it slip, you’re setting the standard for them.”
The book learning and life lessons are accompanied by physical training, community service, marching, drill teams, and presenting colors at various community events. Working on every facet of a student’s transformation from newbie, and experienced cadet to a successful member of society.
“Grades aren’t a deciding factor to be involved in the program or being part of the drill team,” Davis said. “Now when the grade point averages come into play is when we start doing the fun stuff — anything where we’re going to be out in the public, or it’s a field trip to an Air Force base, or air show. If you don’t have the grades, you’re not going. But if it’s a local community service, I’ll let you do that.”
There also are opportunities to earn ribbons and badges.
“We’ve got our various competition teams — our drill team where they spin and throw rifles around, we usually compete really well in that category,” Davis said. “We have what’s called our Orienteering Team, where it’s basically cross-country running with a map and a compass. Cadets get a map that shows a hundred different points on it and they’ve got two hours to hit as many of these points as they can. The ones further out are more difficult to get to, but they are worth more points. They get five or 10 minutes to study the map at the very beginning, and figure out what route to take.
“It’s a contour map so they can see elevations, cliffs and ravines so they can plan, then it’s you and a partner, and off you go.”
Other competitions include model-rocket making, marksmanship and drones. The program is an elective, so it comes with a $20 fee.
For more about the ROTC program, contact Davis or Wilcox, 928-758-3916, ext. 1310.