Hovering just above ground

ROTC works to address declining numbers


Madison O’Connell

To recognize the lives lost in the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, junior Vedika Kumar leads a line of ROTC cadets in the annual Patriot Day Ceremony on Sept. 9. Coordinating the event is one of the community service projects performed by ROTC members.

Penelope Proffitt, Staff Reporter

Despite the looks of the Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps uniforms, and the rigid lines cadets form in drilling ceremonies, the program doesn’t only focus on military aspects, but also largely focuses on community service.

Cadet senior Kinsey Brasier has been involved with the program for four years.

“We have Adopt-A-Highway which is where we go and clean up by the YMCA on 109 once a quarter. We do this new event with Kid Smart in Maryland Heights. Basically they get donations for school supplies and give them to kids who don’t have pencils or markers or highlighters. So, we go there and help package things up,” Brasier said. 

ROTC helps the community in other ways as well.

“Another big one is Wreaths Across America at Jefferson Barracks, where we place wreaths on the headstones. We always say the name of the person we are laying the wreaths on because you don’t know the last time their name was said or when the next time it will be, so I think that’s a really nice one because it is out of respect,” Brasier said.

ROTC also contributes by helping out around the school.

“We directed people around at the Freshman Parent Meeting and Open House. We do helpful things and I get to do it with my friends. It’s good for the school, it’s good for the community, and also, it’s a really good bonding experience,” Brasier said.

But, as much good as the ROTC program is doing externally, the program is facing a conflict internally. 

SMSgt. Matt Zahradka is dealing with both low enrollment and the loss of the second ROTC instructor, Lt. Col. James Smith, who resigned over summer and has not been replaced.

Even with Principal Karen Calcaterra’s goal to maintain ROTC, the matter of finding a new teacher is out of her hands. The Air Force oversees the program.

“We always want our programs to be robust and hope that will continue to build. It is the Air Force’s job to hire teachers, but they are actively looking for someone. But right now, they have not had any applicants,” Calcaterra said.

Zahradka said the biggest challenge currently is extremely low class numbers.

“We have 37 cadets right now and we normally have about double that. [The Maxwell Air Force Base] likes for us to have 100. However, in the past years, the quality of students is so high, that we have had fewer students, but we’ve been very viable, and they’ve let us continue the program based on the yearly inspection result,” Zahradka said.

Brasier said when she was a freshman, there were 87 cadets. Now, in her graduating group, there are only five seniors still participating. 

“It feels like there’s nobody in the class because last year we had so many people where we would go outside and do activities. Now we don’t have enough people to play kickball or dodgeball. Zahradka is  trying to figure out how to put everything together and only be one person, but I think lower numbers are easier on him,” Brasier said.

In the face of declining enrollment, cadet junior Vedika Kumar remains confident.

“I think it mainly dropped because of COVID-19. We didn’t get to go on field trips, and it was mainly just another class, and it wasn’t really ROTC the way it was before,” Kumar said. “I think it’s also less about the numbers and more about the quality of the unit and the kinds of kids that we bring in, like the kind of people and citizens of character they have,” Kumar said.

Cadet Commander Charles Bailey oversees the unit and is concerned about the numbers. 

“I think it’s happening all around the country. People are losing numbers for the same reasons we are,” Bailey said.