This essay is based on my own personal experiences as a high schooler. I think it’s important to note that I’m an American, and thus the stereotypes I’m going to discuss are only the ones present in American media / culture. Additionally, JROTC is a program that is only taught in the USA (as far as I know). Obviously, your experiences are going to differ from mine, especially if you aren’t from the USA.
American media about high school has again and again reinforced the idea that every student has—or should have—a “clique.” Each clique has its own stereotype: the cheerleaders are monsters who bully others; the gifted kids read books all day and are socially awkward; the band kids are hyperactive and quote outdated memes in real life; the athletes have anger issues and always date the cheerleaders. These stereotypes are spread by people who aren’t in the clique themselves, and are false more often than not.
However, there is an elusive clique, one rarely portrayed in media, but with its own stereotypes nonetheless. They are possibly some of the biggest geeks in high school—even bigger than gifted kids and band kids.
They are the JROTC kids.
JROTC stands for “Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps,” and it is a class that American high school students can take in place of P.E. Established by the National Defense Act of 1916, the program aims to help students build leadership skills, serve the community, and be better citizens. The program includes activities such as marching drills, wearing uniforms, earning ranks, and learning about the military; however, it does not recruit students to the military.
Just like every high school group, students in JROTC have stereotypes set against them. I’ll go over a few of them:
All kids in JROTC want to join the military.
Like I’ve said before, JROTC is not a recruiting program; it just teaches you about the military. There are some students who want to join, but they are the minority. In my experience, most people picked JROTC as a class because they thought they could get out of P.E, or because their parents made them join.
In JROTC, people have to march / exercise every day.
This is not true, otherwise I would have quit on day one. This is my weekly schedule for JROTC (please keep in mind that this may vary depending on schools):
Monday — Classroom lesson
Tuesday — Marching or continuation of Monday’s lesson
Wednesday — Uniform Day (They don’t have enough uniforms for everyone, so its mostly just the people on teams who have them)
Thursday — Exercise day
Friday — Test about Monday’s lesson
We only exercise on Thursdays, and most of the time we don’t march on Tuesdays. There are after school drill teams, but these are optional.
JROTC kids are serious all the time.
This is a definite no. We’re serious when we have to be, but a lot of the time we’re just goofing off like other kids do. Outside of JROTC (and even outside of school), we’ve still got friends and family. We still like to hang out with and talk to people. Nobody can be serious all the time!
Now that we’ve covered some stereotypes, I’m going to talk about what kids in JROTC are actually like. Students can usually fit into one of these three categories, depending on how much they participate in activities:
The Hardcore Ones
The kids in this category are the kids who do all the after school activities. They’re the kids on multiple drill teams; the kids who show up to all the practices, ceremonies, sports games, and parades; the kids who end up on the staff team (a team of experienced JROTC students who help organize events). The kids in this group are the ones who want to join the military, either as a full-time job or to help pay for college. The majority of this group are juniors and seniors. At my school, you’re only required to take JROTC for two years, but you’re allowed to take it as an elective after that; it makes sense as to why most hardcore JROTC kids are upperclassmen, although I know a few freshmen that fit the criteria. This category makes up a minority of JROTC students.
This category makes up a majority of JROTC students, and they are the middle ground when it comes to participation. People in this group may only be on one or two teams (or none at all). However, they almost always come to mandatory activities, such as parades and award ceremonies. The people in this group are just as I’ve described them: geeks. They’re always into at least one nerdy thing and they clearly stand out among non-JROTC kids. Most of them don’t want to join the military. I’m willing to bet that the entirety of this group is made up of freshmen, since I’ve never seen any other grade act this way. I myself fit into this category.
The People Who Wanted P.E
There’s a difference between being a JROTC kid and being a kid who’s in JROTC; the people in this category are the latter. These are the people who put P.E on their scheduling cards in the beginning of the year, but ended up in JROTC somehow. This happens because a lot of students want to take P.E, and as a result the P.E classes fill up, so a few students are put into JROTC. These kids don’t do any activities, whether in-class or after school; sometimes they get jokingly made fun of by the hardcore students. They always switch to P.E when the semester ends. Most of these people are freshmen, however I think some sophomores fit into this as well. The sophomores I’ve met in JROTC seem like they took the class as a freshman and are now stuck taking one more year of it (at my school, if you take a year of JROTC, you have to take another year; you can’t take P.E).
Overall, JROTC students are often misunderstood by those not in the program. Many assume that they are training to be in the military and that they have to do vigorous exercise every day, but this is far from the truth. Only a few actually join the military, and we only exercise one day a week. At the end of the day, we’re just like any other student: we laugh and play games and hang out with our friends.