SLHS JROTC Offers Community & Leadership

By Emily Burrell
April 29, 2021

The South Lakes High School JROTC program, led by Ret. Maj. Joseph Schuler and Ret. SFC Anthony Handy, has held many honors including “gold star” status and marksmanship, color guard and drill team trophies. But the success of this program can be best seen when it’s alumni return to share success stories that began with the community and leadership skills they gained from their years in JROTC..

Some are highly decorated officers in the US Armed Forces, but most have found that the leadership skills they gained in JROTC  helped them confidently pursue their dreams in civilian life. One former student, who had also participated in track with Coach Schuler, wrote, “You not only helped develop me as a runner, but also shaped me as a person. I will take all the valuable lessons you taught me with me for the rest of my life. You helped me be mentally tough, taught me how to trust the process, and turn failures into motivation. You always pushed me to do my best and believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself.  Anyways, I wanted you to know that your dedication to the program over the years and always keeping my best interest at heart did not go unnoticed.”

The JROTC website states, “Our mission is ‘to motivate young people to become better citizens’ and our #1 goal is to have all cadets graduate from high school - recruitment is not the aim. The program focuses on developing young people and orienting them positively in preparation for life.”

Student leadership is apparent as soon as you enter the classroom. Student leader Soren Guilloteau calls out orders for a drill while in-person and virtual students participate concurrently. The student pauses to correct an in-person student’s movement. A teacher gently reminds the student to move into view of the virtual students. After drill practice, marksmanship practice begins with student leader Colin McQuarrie. This student has been well trained to be vigilant that every person in the room is wearing eye protection and that doors are secured.

Schuler & Handy proudly introduced every student in the class, explaining how long each has been with JROTC, what their future plans are, and what leadership role each student assumes. Every junior and senior mentors a younger student in the program. There is a student-run tutoring program. Students participate in community service including an annual Relay for Life to benefit the American Cancer Society, blood drives, and organizing a Thanksgiving dinner for local veterans (the dinner was cancelled in 2020 due to Covid).

On another visit to a class, student First Sergeant Ayianna Reed ran the class as a virtual student. The class had been organized by Company Commander Paul Carbon. Reed led training exercises for virtual students while student Sergeant Evelyn Callejas led the exercises for the in-person students. SFC Handy reminded the students, “The push-up is a direct link to the brain.” Reed continued to lead the class reading announcements and calling on other students to read the lesson.

Perhaps the most important impact of this program is the sense of belonging they provide for students who had not previously felt connected to their school. Student Hannah Diab stated, “JROTC helped me feel more connected through the school because it gave us an opportunity to feel like we were a part of something. It's a leadership class where students are always moving up in ranks, the higher your rank the more responsibility you get to take on. There was always something we could do to get involved like fundraisers, volunteer work, or simply helping out at school. They are always encouraging you to do more. I think it's a great class for kids who feel left out because they haven't been involved in any school activities. They always make you feel included and they always push you to be more motivated and active. It is not about being the best, it's about doing your best and they'll acknowledge you for that.”

Ret. Maj. Joseph Schuler and Ret. SFC Anthony Handy have built a program that is the pride of South Lakes High School. “The whole Reston Community benefits from the amazing JROTC program at South Lakes. Our students learn so much from both the opportunities they have to serve the community as well as what this community gives back to them in terms of recognition, appreciation and support”, said Kim Retzer, principal.