(Military) Time Has Run Out for the JROTC

Once a bastion of American integrity, new findings have uncovered the JROTC program’s role in corruption and sexual misconduct. In the wake of this, can the once-revered military program leave the battlefield of accusations unscathed and emerge victorious?

February 18, 2023

Since its establishment in 1916, the United States  JROTC (Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps) program has introduced thousands of high school students to the responsibility that comes with joining military service. However, in recent years, investigators have unearthed evidence to support claims that the JROTC has been harboring a lot more than just a love for our nation. 


At its core, the JROTC was fundamentally created as an optional elective to provide high school students with the necessary background training to accompany the prospects of a future leadership role or possible military career. The original intent was simply to educate students on their rights, responsibilities, and privileges as American citizens. 


Yet, despite the JROTC’s intention of being fully optional, schools have begun automatically placing students in the program and refusing to let them drop. A study of the JROTC enrollment data actually finds that dozens of high schools across the country have either made the JROTC mandatory or found ways to funnel more than 75% of their student body into it. At Pershing High School in Detroit, district data showed that 90 percent of freshmen were enrolled in JROTC during the 2021-22 school year.


Not only is this a direct violation of the personal liberties of students regarding elective courses, it blatantly contradicts what the Pentagon contends about the program. 


On more than one occasion, the Pentagon has declared that forcing students to enter the JROTC violates the guidelines set forth by the government. And, yet, the issue with the JROTC doesn’t seem to dissipate. Rather, it continues to expand and take down other guidelines with it. 


In fact, the broken foundation of the JROTC transcends past simply forcing students to join and begins to teeter on the border of direct discrimination. Presently, the JROTC program has disproportionately affected numerous minority groups, specifically Black and Latino high school students within low-income communities. 


Specifically, schools with 90% or more freshmen enrolled in JROTC were almost all located in the southern or western sides of Chicago. Unfortunately, the root of this issue lies within the lack of funding to these high schools.


As a response to the meager funding of public high schools—and by association, the JROTC programs in these schools—the NRA (National Rifle Association), a private entity, has exploited the situation and has began funneling money into the JROTC, a government-run program, in return for the JROTC promoting the association during its classes. In order to maintain the sponsorship, JROTC leaders are forced to promote NRA sponsored weapons in marksmanship programs. 


Especially when gun violence and anti-gun sentiment plagues the United States, continuing avid support for a program that outwardly demonstrates support for pro-gun organizations may only lead to further issues in high school systems and their impact on teenagers today. 


But, unfortunately, the largest allegation against the JROTC today surpasses financial discrepancies or mandatory electives. In the past five years, the Pentagon has received reports of 58 cases where the leaders of JROTC classes allegedly sexually abused the students. 


For more context, an investigation in July publicized the criminal charges on 33 JROTC instructors due to sexual misconduct with students. The report highlighted that even though 33 were ultimately charged, around 25 more were accused—but the cases were dropped without charges. 


Sexual assault cases in the JROTC act as microcosms for the larger flaws in the military itself. Within the military, around 5,000 victims report sexual assaults each year. However, the ultimate truth lies in the unreported cases—likely to exceed 20,000 to 30,000 per year. Allowing this issue to manifest itself within high schools only exacerbates the misuse of power demonstrated through allegations in the military. 


Victoria Bauer, a 15 year old girl in Mississippi spoke on her experience with sexual assault within her school’s JROTC program, recalling “I gave all the body-language signals that I didn’t want it… I didn’t feel like I had a choice.”

This scenario plays out in countless schools across the United States—within the depths of a program that prides itself on its integrity and civil obedience. 


Even after 17 year old Dominique Mixon of Charlottesville told school administration that one of her JROTC leaders was making unwanted advances, and the admin reported the case to the local authorities, the report went unaddressed. Brad Gibson, the instructor in question, was once again allowed to resume his duties in the program—an ending that appears to repeat itself all over the nation. 


In response to these findings, the Pentagon has pledged to change the program moving forward. Thomas A. Constable, the Defense Department’s acting assistant secretary for manpower and reserve affairs, said the Pentagon expected to recommend a list of possible changes by the end of the year. 


However, these words weren’t enough for many politicians—like Rep. Jackie Speier of California. She, and many other members of Congress, called upon the Department of Defense to make tangible changes now, so as to prevent any of these circumstances from manifesting themselves in the future. 


Just this month, four senators wrote to the Pentagon and the Department of Education, expressing their dismay in reading a New York Times article that detailed the mandating of JROTC programs throughout high schools. 


All told, as for today, all we have as a promise for steps forward are the empty words of the Pentagon. So, the question still remains: Should high schools continue on their current paths and hope the DoD makes good on their pledge? Or, is it time for the JROTC to finally bid adieu to American high schools, and pressure the Pentagon into changing the program for future generations? 

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