JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- As part of a week-long camp, Air Force Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps cadets from three local high schools toured multiple aircraft and Alaska Air National Guard facilities, and flew in an HC-130J Combat King II assigned to the 176th Wing and 3rd Wing at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, June 6, 2023.
Nearly a hundred cadets from South Anchorage, West Anchorage, and Eagle River High Schools came to JBER for their Cadet Leadership Course, a program that aims to prepare cadets for leadership roles in their units, schools, and local communities. Thanks to the 176th Wing, the cadets were given hands-on experience with some of the tools, land vehicles, and aircraft used during the wing’s missions.
“This camp is an opportunity to take high school students and introduce them to an entirely unique lifestyle that is the military,” said Keith Coulter, a retired Air Force master sergeant and the JROTC instructor for South Anchorage High School. “It’s a great opportunity for them to test their leadership skills and help them become better citizens.”
The cadets were split into three groups; each taking turns visiting the static displays of an HC-130J Combat King II, a C-17 Globemaster III, and an HH-60H Pave Hawk. They learned key details about the aircraft and the types of jobs centered around them from some of the loadmasters, crew chiefs, and aviators of the Alaska Air National Guard and 3rd Wing.
Parker Johnston, a JROTC cadet from South Anchorage High School, had the opportunity to see the flight decks of all three aircraft.
“If I’m going big planes, C-17s all day,” said Johnson when asked about his favorite aircraft. “I love how big it is. It fits an entire tank inside. It can do so many things you can’t even imagine.”
After a lunch break and a quick safety brief, the cadets made their way back to the flight line. They donned hearing protection and boarded an HC-130J Combat King II for a familiarization flight through the skies of Alaska, an opportunity most Airmen don’t get to experience their entire career. After take-off, cadets peered from the large windows towards the rear of the jet and took turns moving up to the flight deck to see the pilots in action.
“Usually, I don’t like turbulence on airplanes, but it was fun,” said Hally Milette, a first-year cadet from South Anchorage High School. “They took the Denali route and flew over the glaciers. The views were beautiful.”
Following their return from the flight, the cadets were reorganized and led to the 176th Wing headquarters for the last portion of their visit. On arrival, they were separated again for a tour around the facility led by pararescuemen from the 212th Rescue Squadron. From smoke canisters and all-terrain vehicles to parachutes and night-vision equipment, cadets could see first-hand the tools the 212th and its sister squadrons use to save hundreds of lives in and around Alaska every year.
Cadets attending the camp not only got the opportunity to experience the mission of the 176th Wing, but got to make new friendships along the way. Aryanna Sparks, a JROTC cadet from West Anchorage High School, was appointed to the element leader position, putting her in charge of a small number of cadets within her group. Sparks thanked the camp for giving her invaluable leadership experience, helping her overcome her shyness, and encouraging her to make new friends, such as Cadet Johnston, one of the individuals in her element.
“I feel like I’m out of my shell when I’m in ROTC compared to any other environment,” said Sparks. “I’m pretty quiet at school and in my sports, but with ROTC, it feels like I can be loud and no one really judges because you're accepted and in the group. If you’re struggling with anything, you can talk to anyone here and they’ll support you and understand you.”
After bidding the 176th Wing goodbye, the cadets were bused back to their campsite on base, sleeping in tents at night for the duration of the leadership course. They will continue to practice drills and conduct physical training throughout the week, even facing off against each other in paintball towards the end of camp.
There are thousands of JROTC programs across the United States, teaching young men and women the skills they need to navigate the challenges of adulthood successfully. Not only do they host camps like this one, they also provide opportunities for community service, participation in nationwide competitions, and even a path to higher education through scholarships to nearly 260 different colleges. For more information about the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, visit https://www.defense.gov/Contact/Help-Center/Article/Article/2742332/junior-reserve-officers-training-corps/