Stockbridge High School ROTC shines at annual inspection

By Jason A. Smith
Times Correspondent

When 17-year-old Scarlett Jelks joined ROTC at Stockbridge High School four years ago, it wasn’t exactly her first choice.

However, her mindset changed when she began to learn discipline and respect.

Retired Navy Cmdr. Rustie Hibbard (left) advised cadets with the Stockbridge High School ROTC group as part of their annual inspection last Thursday. Photo by Jason A. Smith

“I’m not going to lie to you - my parents put me in here,” said Cadet Ensign Jelks with a laugh. “I fell in love, honestly. Because of this unit - because of this class - I have matured so much - greater than probably half the kids who are not in ROTC.”

Jelks was one of 190 ROTC cadets who participated in an annual inspection Thursday. She was proud of her fellow cadets, particularly since their inspection occurred early in the school year.

Still, she said there was “no reason to be terrified,” because they were well prepared for the task at hand.

“We had to teach over 100 kids how to do measurements, how to shine shoes, how to have their pants right,” she said. “I feel as though, considering the fact that we only had a short amount of time to do it instead of our original time frame, we came together. The NS1’s -- the first-year cadets -- came together outstanding. We helped each other a lot.”

Retired Lt. Cmdr. Gino Rice is the senior naval science instructor at Stockbridge High School. He requested that his cadets would be the first unit in their area to undergo an inspection for 2018-19.

“We felt confident that we could get the unit where it needed to be,” said Rice. “In life, we get deadlines. Sometimes, it changes. This is an opportunity for it to change, for them to regroup, go through the planning process, get ramped up and be ready in four weeks.”

Area managers for ROTC began preparing for the current school year in April, and cadets have been preparing for the inspection over the last several months. Rice said when the big day came, numerous components came into play.

“Every cadet receives a personnal inspection, in that their uniform is inspected from the top -- from their cover, the hat that they’re wearing -- all the way down to their shoes, and everything in between,” said Rice. “So, they can receive a grade on each component of the uniform. And because we’ve been doing this for a while, we know exactly what to look for.”

Rice said the uniform inspection helps to promote “viability and suitability” for the unit.

“This is a Navy-paid program,” said Rice regarding ROTC. “So, you want to make sure that the students are getting the most out of the citizenship program. Part of that is wearing the uniform.”

Other elements of the inspection included pass-in-review and drill demonstrations. Then came a 30-minute brief for retired Cmdr. Rustie Hibbard, the area manager evaluating them. Hibbard, who inspects ROTC units for all of Georgia and Jacksonville, Fla., said there is an upside to being inspected early in the school year.

“Once you get it done, it’s done,” said Hibbard. “The earlier you get it done, the quicker you get it done, you don’t have to mess with it, and you can go on about your year. But not many people want to go that early.”

Hibbard has worked with ROTC groups since 2001, with stints as a manager and as an instructor. Each aspect of the inspection, he said, helps cadets build skills they can use in their personal and professional lives.

“Everything we do has a purpose in developing their leadership skills,” said Hibbard. “Part of that is teaching them to know how to dress for success, and attention to detail. So, when they go out into the world, whether they go in the military or they go in the business world -- when they go for a job interview -- you want to look the part. You want to be able to show up and look professional, and be able to interact with your employer.”

Hibbard said the briefing helps to prepare cadets for their future, regardless of their chosen career track.

“In the Navy, you’re going to brief senior officers, you’re going to brief your boss,” he said. “Plus, we want them to think about, what do you want to accomplish at your unit more? What do you want to do to make your unit successful and/or better?”

Hibbard said cadets in ROTC learn how to set goals for themselves using the acronym SMART, which stands for “significant, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely.” This, he said, comes in handy when speaking with those who say they “want to have more fun.”

“Nobody has a fun-meter,” said Hibbard. “So, how do you brief that and be able to measure it? How do you know if you attained it or not?”

As the inspection was winding down, Hibbard advised the cadets about their future and how their ROTC experience can help them in their work lives. He drew a distinction, during his remarks, between a job and a career.

“If you don’t have benefits and you don’t have retirement, you have a job,” said Hibbard. “You don’t have a career.”

Hibbard gave the ROTC unit high marks for their performance. He commended the cadets for continuing a long history of success at Stockbridge High School.

“First of all, it takes tremendous confidence to raise your hand and go early,” said Hibbard. “This unit has been a distinguished unit with academic honors for probably the last 10 years, and a distinguished unit for the last 17 years. They’re really good at what they do. They’ve got a great instructor team, and they’ve got great young men and women in the unit.”

As for Ensign Jelks, being in ROTC has inspired her to join the Air Force National Guard. She is grateful for what she has learned during her four years in the program.

“I think it takes a certain kind of student to actually join ROTC and stay in it as long as I did, because there’s going to be some yelling. Some kids can’t always take that. That’s why everybody can’t join the military, but I have no problem with it. It’s part of discipline and respect, and it gets you ready for the real world.”