Photo courtesy / Chief Warrant Officer Rodriguez

JROTC works hard to coordinate their movements with one another.

The sun beats down on the track, illuminating rows of perfectly aligned students standing next to each other. Each step they take is in absolute unison, down to the click sound of their numerous rifles, which echoes as if only a single weapon had tapped the ground. Every single movement that they take is not without the other, and they travel down the track as one entire body. They are the picture of absolute precision.

All of these hours of hard work, dedication, and precision culminate in the Marine Corps Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps’ triumph at local and regional JROTC meets. Of all of the JROTC programs in the area, they are known to be among the most decorated, and by far some of the most disciplined of them all.

Most recently, they demonstrated their skill at the Las Cruces Early Bird on September 25th. This meet was the first competition of the year for some JROTC programs in EPISD and Southern New Mexico. They placed 1st in Unarmed Regulation, 2nd in Inspection, and 3rd in Color Guard.

Nationwide, JROTC is a federal program funded by the US Armed Forces which was implemented in high schools all over the country in the early 20th century. According to the United States Code, the purpose of JROTC high school programs is to “instill… the values of citizenship, service to the United States, and personal responsibility and a sense of accomplishment”.

The Marine Corps JROTC program on campus got its start in 2016 under the direction of  Chief Warrant Officer Raul Rodriguez. It was the first of its kind in the area at the time and remains the only MCJROTC program in the district to date. Today, CWO2 Rodriguez is joined by Master Sergeant Eduardo Hernandez, another Marine instructor to the program.

“I joined the Marine Corp in 1980, about 41 years ago.. Two years before I retired I would volunteer with my daughters’ JROTC instructor and that’s how I found out about JROTC,” said CWO2 Rodriguez. “I retired in 2000… Then I was asked to come to El Paso to start the first Marine Corps JROTC program in the city of El Paso in 2016”.

Like CWO2 Rodriguez, MSgt Hernandez is a Marine Corps veteran.

“I joined in 1996, retired in 2018. Throughout my career I held billets of leadership,” said Hernandez. “I served as a Retired Marine for 30 days and found that I could put myself to use in the community, so I became a JROTC instructor”.

Everyday, students in the Marine Corps JROTC program on campus take part in the program by coming in early or staying late for practice, studying Marine Corps history and fundamentals, and above all, they train together to become strong and independent leaders for now and for the future.

“During class, we sometimes go over the history of the Marines, and we learn about how to be better leaders,” said junior and First Sergeant Delia Acosta. “During practice we march unarmed and armed and we also do PT, which is physical fitness”.

This training may sound like hard work to many, but the students in the program work to excel at competition and create a community among themselves.

“I was very worried about how we would place during the awards ceremony last week. But we did well and I was really proud,” Acosta said. “I told my cadets when we were leaving that if it wasn’t for them coming in every morning or staying we wouldn’t have been able to place like that”.

This success was in the works for a while. Iit took weeks of hard work and dedication from all competing members of the program, especially accounting for learning and membership loss as a result of the past year.

“It was kind of hard getting the teams back up to par, but they really came through,” said CWO2 Rodriguez. “For our first meet after not having this program for about a year and a half they did well”.

As both instructors have stressed many times before, JROTC is not a military recruitment tool, meaning that students who join are in no way obligated to join the armed forces after graduation. In fact, a primary goal for the program is for its graduates to pursue higher education and then, if they see fit, to join the service.  Although many JROTC graduates may take that path, the end goal of the program is to instill fundamental values of leadership in each student that passes through their classroom doors.

“I hope they [our students] gain self-reliance and the ability to be successful with their leadership skills,” said CWO2 Rodriguez. “I hope they can take traits and principles that we teach them in the class and that they have learned and do that”.