At attention:

Private First Class Tyler Branson (left) and Private First Class Tarvaris Malone check their position at attention during Marine Corps JROTC at Olive Branch High School. Olive Branch and Lake Cormorant High Schools this month added programs to join an established JROTC program in Horn Lake. Photo by Bob Bakken

OLIVE BRANCH - "Honor, Courage, Commitment."

They are not just words, but they are the core values of the U.S. Marine Corps and are values being taught in the new Junior ROTC (JROTC) programs that began this month at Olive Branch and Lake Cormorant High Schools. 

They are the second and third JROTC programs offered in the DeSoto County Schools, joining the Horn Lake program, now in its fourth year. 

Chief Warrant Officer Paul Robinson is the senior instructor of the Olive Branch program with First Sgt. Desiree LaChappelle as instructor for 59 students. 

Master Sgt. Richard McCarty left a successful program in Oxford to start the Lake Cormorant JROTC and is in charge of 68 students. 

Officials believe the lessons taught through JROTC are important enough that the goal is to have each school in the district offer the program in the future.

"We want to have each service branch represented here," said Lee Caldwell, Director of the JROTC program for DeSoto County Schools. "The main issue holding it up now is the funding available with the Department of Defense."

The new offerings for the curriculum began with the return of students to classes from Christmas break on Jan. 6.

"We teach citizenship, leadership, Marine customs and courtesy," Robinson said. "Leadership is one of the main things we teach and the students are excited about being a part of the program."

Olive Branch Platoon Leader Cadet Sophie Bell said she felt called to be a part of JROTC.

"As a Christian I thought about it and it's been a good experience," Bell said. "I was at first nervous, but everyone has been very supportive. I'm very excited about it."

Caldwell said while the lessons of discipline and leadership are the main takeaways from JROTC, they translate to success in other facets of the students' course work.  She said it's been shown in the Horn Lake program. 

"We have a 100 percent graduation rate," Caldwell said. "Over 40 percent of the students are on the honor roll and many more are very close."

Cadet 2nd Lt. Andrew Carter said being in the Olive Branch JROTC will help in his future plans to be in the service after his high school graduation. 

"I feel it's preparation for the Marine Corps for me," Carter said. "I wanted us to have it, knowing it was already in the district. I have a love for the service and it's teaching me the discipline and leadership skills I need. It's gone better than expected."

The program is part academics and part physical training and is incorporated inside the students' school schedule, although some of the activities go beyond classroom time.

But, Caldwell stresses JROTC is not a recruiting tool for the military.

"We feel strongly about the character building and integrity the program offers," she said. "It opens doors to the students they wouldn't have otherwise been able to go through."

And, Olive Branch High School principal Allyson Killough said she already sees what JROTC is doing for her students. 

"Each young man and woman is walking a little taller (in uniform) and with a bit more pride, and I don't think the boots had anything to do with it," Killough said. "I can't be more proud to see lives change in just a matter of a few weeks because of this incredible new program."

Bob Bakken is a staff writer for the DeSoto Times-Tribune. Contact Bob at sports@desototimestribune.com or call 662-429-6397, Ext. 240.

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