FORT POLK –– The Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps program, or JROTC, is often thought of as a military program to help introduce children to life in the Army.

FORT POLK –– The Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps program, or JROTC, is often thought of as a military program to help introduce children to life in the Army. And while there is a certain amount of truth to the idea, there is much more to JROTC than that.

Students from Leesville High School join JROTC for a variety of reasons, according to instructor Sgt. Maj. Ed Santelices. “Sometimes students want to try something new, to develop leadership qualities, be part of a team or some actually join because they plan to join the Army. Not as many as you’d think, though.”

Alexis Spurgeon, a student at Leesville High and member of the program was looking for something unique. “I joined because it was different and I hadn’t heard about it, so it was a new experience,” she said. Spurgeon enjoys the program’s community service. “We do a lot of charity and volunteer work. At Valentine’s Day we visit Veteran’s Affairs and hand out valentines to the veterans. We have a toy donation around Christmas and we put together care packages for the military and send them to Soldiers overseas. We also train at Fort Polk and support the troops when we can.”

Spurgeon said the program can be rewarding. “As much as you put into the program is what you get out of it. If you don’t incorporate yourself into it you’re not going to have a good time. You have to get involved.”

Jeresun Atkin said joining JROTC was a long held goal. “When I lived in Germany, JROTC was a big deal over there so I always wanted to join. But before this I went to school in Rosepine and they didn’t offer JROTC. When I moved here to Leesville I jumped at the chance.”

Like Spurgeon, Atkin is impressed by the activities to be found within JROTC. “There’s a Raiders team, color guard and drill team. They are all voluntary. I’m in Raiders, which is similar to physical training. You compete with other schools in pull-ups, sit-ups and other exercises.”

Brianna Tucker likes the team-building aspects of JROTC membership. “JROTC is the only class where you can work with each student from each grade level. Other classes are separated with seniors taking one class and juniors another, but this class allows everybody to be in one room together. You can learn from each other’s perspective.”

The bottom line, said Atkin, is teamwork. “JROTC gives you a real sense of unity. We’re different classes, but together we’re one big battalion.”