Junior ROTC Shouldn’t Exist

W.J. Astore

High school students shouldn’t be wearing military uniforms

I entered the Air Force through ROTC and served for 20 years, retiring as a lieutenant colonel.  I also taught for 15 years at both military and civilian colleges.  As a retired military officer and as an educator, perhaps I have some standing on the issue of Junior ROTC in our nation’s high schools. So, to put it bluntly:

  • High school students, in my opinion, are too young to decide to wear a military uniform.  In short, I believe JROTC is inappropriate.
  • Many veterans involved in JROTC in our nation’s schools lack experience and qualifications in education.
  • The U.S. military is already glorified in our culture and society.  Its dominance of American institutions is undeniable.  That dominance should not extend into America’s high schools.
Combat uniforms wait patiently for fresh high school bodies (Zack Wittman for the NYT) 

A friend with experience in JROTC alerted me to notable shifts in the program’s mission and organization, especially since the 9/11 attacks. In the past, JROTC had focused on leadership and civics while being overseen by civilian directors. In the 1990s, the director of JROTC for the Air Force was a civilian with a doctorate in education. The current director of AF JROTC is an active-duty colonel with no experience in education, though he has an MBA and a master’s in strategic studies. (His deputy is a retired colonel who similarly lacks credentials in education.)

Over the past 20 years or so, JROTC has increasingly been militarized and used as a feeder for military recruitment, despite disclaimers that it is “not an accessions program.” High schools are enticed to support JROTC with financial incentives such as subsidized (read: low-cost) instructors, veterans who often lack teaching credentials but who are willing to do grunt work at schools (monitoring lunchrooms, school exits, and the like). In return, the military gets access to young, impressionable students, the ultimate goal being recruitment of the same into the ranks.

JROTC, in sum, is now militarized. It’s more of a pipeline to military service as a “warrior” than a civics program that develops alert and knowledgeable citizens who may then decide freely to enlist as citizen-soldiers. Consider this change as yet another example of creeping fascism in America.

Put uncharitably, JROTC is preying on America’s youth.

Incredibly, students in some high schools today are being assigned automatically and involuntarily to JROTC classes, notes the New York Times. In a sense, 14- and 15-year-olds are being drafted into JROTC and trained by gung-ho veterans with virtually no experience in education.

And people say the draft died fifty years ago!

JROTC is in 3500 high schools across the nation, and, as the New York Times notes, has its highest enrollment numbers in areas where there’s “a large proportion of nonwhite students and those from low-income households.” To such students the military promises opportunity, an identity, and of course financial aid for college, enticing inducements indeed.

Again, students in JROTC don’t have to join the military upon graduation. They’re not dragooned into the ranks. But they are gradually enticed and subtly pressured into joining. The military doesn’t run JROTC programs for purely altruistic reasons.

Imagine, for a moment, the elimination of those 3500 JROTC programs. Or, better yet, a re-imagining and re-purposing of them. Why not make a true national service corps of teenagers in which military service is only one option among many? A national service corps that fosters civilian conservation, that offers options for fostering peace, that is focused on service within communal settings that is unrelated to wielding weapons while wearing battle dress uniforms. There are many ways, after all, to serve one’s community and country, ones that don’t involve military discipline and exposure to what concerned parents term “indoctrination.” 

Speaking for myself, I wasn’t ready to wear a military uniform when I was 14. When I was 18 and enlisted in ROTC, I’d graduated from high school. I (sort of) knew what I was doing and the true seriousness of the choice I had made.

Military service is far too serious to be inflicted on impressionable young teenagers. Let’s give our kids time to grow and mature before we start issuing them uniforms for battle. Better yet, let’s work to create a more peaceful world where there’s far less call for militaries, period.

(For more information on JROTC, see this recent panel discussion sponsored by Massachusetts Peace Action.)

13 thoughts on “Junior ROTC Shouldn’t Exist

  1. Bill, I was attending my 1st year University in Montreal at 16, and I joined CanaDa’s Naval Reserve as an Officer Cadet in their University Naval Training Division program (UNTD) at HMCS Donnacona. It was a different simpler World then, and I loved the training and camaraderie.

    My 1st Summer training I crossed “The Pond” aka The Atlantic, going to Dublin, Ireland, where I kissed The Blarney Stone, and on to Portsmouth and London. I was kicked out in my 2nd year.

    Assigned to a frigate in Halifax Harbour, my Brother-in-Law was an enlisted man in the Navy also stationed in Halifax. Enlisted men had to go ashore in uniform, but as an Officer Cadet I could wear civies and met him at the enlisted Men’s Bar at HMCS Stadacona where I mingled with sailors from his ship and mine.

    The Manager of the bar recognized me as an Officer Cadet from the previous year when he managed the Recreation Centre at HMCS Cornwallis and proceeded to rip into me for being in the enlisted men’s bar, reporting me to the Captain of my ship who put me on Report with the punishment of being “required on board” for a week. It was boring!

    A squadron of 3 frigates from the French Navy were visiting Halifax and the 3 vessels were inboard from my ship and they had to be traversed to get ashore.
    On the 5th night of boredom, I broke the rules and leaped from the bow of my ship to the bow of the French ship to avoid the gangplank at the stern of the ship. Being from Quebec and speaking French, I was invited into the Officer’s Wardroom where they proceeded to get me drunk.

    I made it in that inebriated condition jumping from bow to bow and almost got away with it, until I threw up all over the Officer’s Wardroom flat on my ship on the way to the Officer Cadet’s Mess. It was a mess and I was kicked out the next Day.
    One of the main topics of interest for the 2nd year Cadets was who would be selected to train on HMCS Oriole, the 112 foot Sailing Ketch operating out of Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt on Vancouver Island in the 3rd year of Training. The Word was if you were selected to train on the Oriole, you were in and approved by the Navy’s ‘old boys network.’

    From being an Officer Cadet, I went to work as a Labourer for the Foundation Company of Canada on the Distant Early Warning Line at Fox Main, the 1st line of Radar warning of a surprise Soviet bomber attack over the North Pole before Satellites reached Space.
    With no TV, radio, or telephone and the Military telling the workers nothing when President Kennedy was assassinated, I quit and took the next plane out to Winnipeg returning to Civilization to know what was happening, and went to Vancouver.

    Young and alone in a strange City, the savings from the DEW Line job went fast and the pressure to find a job started to build.
    Not being shy, I walked into the HQ of MacMillan, Bloedel and Powell River, the big pulp & paper Company in British Columbia, and using a pretext, was received by the Treasurer of the Company (CFO) who turned out to be extremely helpful in getting me a job at their Harmac pulp & paper mill in Nanaimo on Vancouver Island starting at $5.75/hour in 1963 dollars, $55/hour in Today’s dollars. Not bad for a 19 year old.

    Getting back to the JROTC/UNTD segue that got me sharing this period of my life.
    There were 3 rotating shifts at the mill, with 5 days off between graveyard and day shifts. I’d go to Vancouver or Seattle able to afford Hotels and travel.
    One day I was walking on a street in Vancouver and bumped into the Commanding Officer of HMCS Donnacona in Montreal where I started as an Officer Cadet. He was now the Commanding Officer of HMCS Oriole, the dream for all 2nd year Cadets and he invited me aboard as his Civilian guest.

    It was wonderful seeing the 2nd year Cadets I knew the 2 previous years doing all the hard work as I lounged around for a tour of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the inlets of Vancouver Island.


  2. Now for something current and more serious.
    Yesterday I sent this tweet to Jake Sullivan, Biden’s National Security Advisor.
    You were just over 2 months old when The Kansas City Times was quoting me September 13, 1976, “idea being put out subtly and deceptively” by the government that we have to get prepared for a War with Russia.”
    You’re fulfilling it!

    Yesterday there was only 1 visitor to my Blog and that visitor was from the US. In the text to Jake Sullivan only 1 article was linked, “SIGNS OF THE TIMES”
    There are 50 other articles linked in the column as seen in Bill’s Top Posts on this page.
    That 1 visitor checked out 3 other articles from the 50.
    War Over Ukraine – Prelude to WWIII/Armageddon? posted in 2015, the year after the 2014 US/CIA Coup/regime change of the Russian friendly government, and

    I think it was Jake Sullivan checking them out. Time will Tell!

    So far Today there is 1 visitor from the US, 1 from CanaDa, and 1 from China.


  3. I have no perspective on the legitimacy of JROTC but will acknowledge yours. What strikes me, however, is your heavy reliance on teacher training for those who administer JROTC. I’m not confident that credentials are necessarily the answer to shifting emphasis on the part of military leaders (and underlings) interacting with HS students.

    Let me suggest, having teaching credentials and experience myself, that there are four elements that make for effective teaching: (1) mastery of subject matter, (2) methodologies and techniques, (3) grounded philosophy of teaching, and (4) innate personal character. The first two can be taught, the third is subject to debate and distortion, and the fourth just is. If there is a breakdown in JROTC or at least a shift of emphasis, my suspicion is that it would be a philosophy geared not toward teaching and personal development of JROTC students but rather toward the needs of the military itself, whatever those might be.


    1. Hi Brutus: Those who run JRTOC are at pains to say its goal is not recruitment. It’s not about accession, so they say. It’s about leadership, civics, and education, which suggests you need educators, teachers, focused on citizenship, not military service. But when you put students in military uniforms and use ex-military personnel as instructors, you’re almost certain to push a limited vision and version of citizenship.

      I’d be interested to know if any anti-war veterans are allowed in the classroom. Are Veterans for Peace members actively recruited as “teachers”? I wonder …


      1. Methinks one would have to possess a particularly weak mind to fall for the rather lame wannabe Jedi mind trick “These are not the recruits you are looking for.”


  4. It is an unnerving trend. In my opinion teenagers, especially those still in school, generally have not developed a level of maturity or life experience to make an informed decision on joining the military. Which of course is what makes them prime picking for recruiters.

    I would also add that is was interesting to watch three of my nephews go through the Boy Scouts program. All three earned Eagle Scout. Having never be part of that group I had no idea how similar it was in ways to my experience in the army. What I did appreciate though is that in the end, while the Scouts did push a lot of hyper patriotism, there didn’t seem to be the same pipeline mentality to the military like discussed above with the JROTC. In fact not one of my nephews has chosen to sign up after graduation.

    When thinking about the options, or lack there of, for young people today I am reminded of these lyrics written back in 1990 by Jello Biafra:

    It would be a little obvious
    To fence off all the slums
    Hand out machine guns
    To the poor in the projects
    And watch ’em kill each other off
    A more subtle genocide is when
    The only hope for the young
    Is to join the Army and slowly die
    Wall Street or Crack Dealer Avenue
    The last roads left to the American Dream

    I agree completely with your call for a national services corp. We could all use a good reminder about service to our communities. After all, we are all in this together.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Interesting article in Foreign Affairs the Propaganda arm of the US Think Tank Council on Foreign Relations.
    ‘Russia’s Halfway to Hell Strategy’
    Why Putin Has Not Yet Launched a Total War in Ukraine

    On September 21, 2022, when Russian President Vladimir Putin announced his large-scale mobilization of fighting-age men, it was seen as a dramatic move toward total war. No longer could the Kremlin downplay the war in Ukraine as a mere “special operation” in which ordinary Russians had little involvement. Fearful of what was to come, hundreds of thousands of young men fled the country as rumors circulated that the security services were going to close the borders to prevent more people from leaving—and take drastic measures to pressure those who had left to return and fight. Many also assumed that Putin’s order would be followed by a second, even broader draft, and that all of Russian society would soon be put on a continual war footing.

    Yet few of these rumors proved true. For the remainder of 2022, and even through the first anniversary of the war in late February, Russia’s borders remained open, and a second mobilization never happened. Instead, the country was left in a state of “partial mobilization,” as Putin had called it. Indeed, despite huge numbers of Russian casualties in Ukraine, not every family has been affected, and for many middle-class Russians, life has continued much as it did before…………………………………………….



  6. A man’s got to do what a man’s gotta do. The Washington Post hasn’t deleted any of my comments in the discussion, ‘Putin retreats deeper into his labyrinth’ These are still there from yesterday.

    Me: After dropping 2 nukes that killed over 200,000 CIVILIANS in WAR, since then the US has invaded and bombed ONLY poor, 3rd World Countries with the most expensive Military Force in the History of Nations and couldn’t get a win in any of them.
    The old standard still applies, Let the one without SIN cast the 1st stone.
    Even self-proclaimed most Christian America doesn’t recognize God’s Judgment on the US for that history

    Mark1234: God’s judgement? On the US? So he’s making Russians murder Ukrainians… to show displeasure with the US?
    Um, that doesn’t add up to “sane”.

    Me: Totally irrelevant to my comment this is in reply to.
    But let me add this. If the US couldn’t even win WARS against poor, 3rd World countries ‘over there’ who couldn’t strike the US Mainland, it’s US insanity to provoke WARS with Russia and China who can hit the US.

    Want to know what does add up to “sane?”

    The Kansas City Times did a followup to the September 13, 1976 historical record referred to above on ALL SOULS DAY, November 2, 1976, publishing this picture,

    The TV movie THE DAY AFTER Kansas City was incinerated in a Nuclear Holocaust was shown 7 years to the month later on November 20, 1983.

    At THE END, the movie pauses at the very same picture frame published on ALL SOULS DAY 7 years earlier except I wasn’t in the movie.

    That’s a SIGN, not a coincidence, of what could happen with the majority comments here calling for escalation.
    The only way to avoid that is to call for a CEASE FIRE and Good Faith negotiations without preconditions to start soon to stop it from escalating further.

    THE DAY AFTER will be too late!


  7. Anyone else think it will happen like Stephen Bryen, a senior fellow at the Center for Security Policy and the Yorktown Institute speculates in this article?

    ‘The coming spring offensives in Ukraine’
    Both sides readying to go big militarily with nature’s thaw & place Europe on the brink of a great catastrophe

    As it looks now, there are two potential spring offensives in Ukraine. Either of these offensives would be laden with significant risks for both sides. Predicting the outcome is difficult because outside players may intervene, especially US and NATO forces.

    The first offensive is fairly well known. It is the spring offensive being organized by the Russian army. Considerable preparations have been made over many months. The Russians have honed their tactics, brought in new offensive weapons and replaced equipment so far lost in the war, especially tanks and infantry fighting vehicles.

    […] The main focus of the Ukrainian spring offensive likely is an assault on Crimea and on Russian forces in the south. The objective is to cut them off (Kherson area across to Zaphorizia) and systematically destroy them, followed by a big push into Crimea.

    The US is supplying a huge amount of war materiel for this assault. It includes bridging equipment that can support German-origin Leopard II tanks, which weigh more than 62 tons (roughly the same as the phantom M1 Abrams tanks that won’t arrive until next year, if ever).

    […] One can expect that US aircraft will be painted over with Ukrainian insignia and flown by US or NATO pilots. These planes will operate as standoff assets, firing long-range air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons.

    […] The Ukrainian offensive also is likely to appear to the Russians as a casus belli involving NATO direct participation. How Russia might respond to a direct challenge is hard to say. The most likely Russian response could be to attack stockpiles and massing areas in Poland and Romania – and, almost certainly, airfields supporting the war……



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