VOICES: Creating Leaders Through Military Discipline

Cadet Hannah Yee says the T.C. Williams’ Army Junior Reserve Officer’s Training Corps (JROTC) program has provided her with a solid foundation, turning her from a misguided kid a few years ago into a leader. This week, as we celebrate Veterans Day, Hannah will be sworn into the U.S. Army and is looking forward to serving her country.

In the latest episode of our VOICES podcast, Hannah’s mentor, retired Command Sgt. Maj. William A. Jordan, talks with her about the changes he’s seen in her these past four years as an Army JROTC cadet.

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HY- My dad put me in this class because I was a troublemaker and he thought this class would teach me self control and discipline, but it also taught me so much more, like team-building, and different leadership skills.

WJ- When Cadet Yee first arrived here at T.C. Williams Army JROTC program, she was a very exciting young lady who was very eager to voice her opinion, sometimes in a positive way and sometimes in a negative way.

HY- I came to class being loud a lot, being disrespectful. You know Sergeant Major, every time before we would go on a trip, he gives out a good set of rules, ground rules. Stuff along the lines of, “Stay in your hotel room when you’re supposed to.” And he said, “There’s always one cadet that tries me.” Every kid is like, “It’s not going to be me. I’m not going to get caught.” And I’ll tell you, a lot of kids didn’t get caught. But it doesn’t mean what they did was right. But I got caught. I was messing around, not thinking of the big picture. “Meh, I’m not going to stay in my hotel room,” and I got in trouble for it. I got removed from the Raiders Team for a good while and it took me a long time to earn my spot back, but I got back on the team and it started to click, like, “Wow, if I get in trouble, I get things taken away from me that I actually care about.”

WJ- Month, after month, after month, quarter, after quarter, after quarter, she gradually grew.

HY- The Raiders team is where you meet friends, people that you’re going to be friends with throughout all of high school. It’s like a family. And I was just getting started, too. It kind of helped me stay out of trouble. Do I like coming to Raiders practice every day or maybe getting into a fight? 

WJ- She started to observe other cadets in leadership positions getting rewarded for doing great things, getting scholarships, getting things.

HY- Do I want to be known for throughout the program for being a troublemaker or do I want to be known throughout the program for being a good leader?

WJ- I think she saw all of that and I think she thought, “I want that.”

HY- I want that.

WJ- “What do I have to do to get that? The first thing I have to do is to change my behavior. I got to start somewhere.” And that’s where she started. Her work ethic already was there when she came. She already had the communications skills, like I said. She was a very, very outspoken person. So, let’s take that outspoken person and change it into a positive versus a negative. But I think that a lot of what it was was peer pressure, a lot of it was, “I want to be like my peers, I want to be with my friends. I want to do what they’re doing.” Then she saw another set of friends who were doing positive things and getting rewarded for it. She was like, “Oh, I could do that, too.” She has grown tremendously over the years. If I had to select one cadet out of the whole program that I’m proud of and to say I watched go from here to here, it would be her because she just validates what we do in the program. And it’s rewarding and that’s where we get a lot of our rewards from, watching young cadets come into the program that may need some mentorship and may need some guidance and watch them grow over the four years. And then they’re able to walk out the door and make a positive contribution to society.

HY- I just think that ROTC is such a good foundation for life. In ROTC you learn these things called Army values. And there are seven of them: loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage. And those are things that aren’t just in the ROTC and not just in the military, those are things that are good to have in the civilian world as well. The instructors have really helped me through all of high school. The difference between this program and the difference between any other program, I think, they’re not just your JROTC teachers, they’re like your life mentors for that four years.

WJ- Another rewarding thing about being a JROTC instructor is when cadets come back. A lot of our cadets, when they leave they come back to the school after five or ten years that they’re  off on their military career, or off on their civilian career, or off from college and say “Hey, thanks for your help, thanks because we didn’t see the big picture but now we do see the big picture. But those little things that you all instilled in us made a big difference in our lives and the reason why we’re able to be successful is because of those things.” Well, we like to see them come back and tell their story. So it’s like a big family and we try to take care of each other and sometimes, you know, they can step off on the wrong direction but it’s all about correcting their mistakes and continuing to move on. And we always tell them, “Guys, there’s room for you to make mistakes here. This is where we want you to make mistakes here in this school, not once you get out in the real world because sometimes the world out there doesn’t allow you to make mistakes. So we want you to do them here so you can learn from them, then when you get out there, there are no mistakes out there.”

HY- I actually swear in next week. Big moves! Hopefully I can take what I’ve learned here into the military and work more on leadership skills and work as a team with my unit. That’s what I want to do.

ACPS, Alexandria City High School, VOICES