Saluting the Future: Royal High’s Air Force Jr. ROTC Program Takes Flight

 

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On a certain Tuesday just before Spring Break, Andrew Hazuka started his day at Royal High School a little differently.

With his straight-off-the-hanger light blue dress shirt and navy blue slacks, complete with patches, insignias and polished shoes, Andrew proudly wore his uniform for the first time.

“They (the students) clapped when I came into class,” he said with a smile.

Royal’s Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (Jr. ROTC) program launched in August, and since then, Col. Mark Hustedt, the lead instructor, has battled patiently for the uniforms.

On this day, he danced with excitement as he entered his third period class, known as Bravo Flight, and saw his 25 smartly dressed students.

“Your uniforms make you look legitimate and, as we say, in regulation,” he told the class.

The students’ delight in wearing their uniforms is just one more indication to how popular this program has become at Royal.

After three years of planning, the U.S. Air Force gave its blessing for the Jr. ROTC at Royal to start this year. About 30 students had signed up for the program at the beginning of the 2014-2015 school year. Within a few weeks, Royal’s Jr. ROTC swelled to about 130 students. If the program reaches and maintains at least 150 students, the Air Force will provide another teacher, Hustedt said. (Right now, Husted and one other teacher manage the five ROTC classes.)

The program’s mission is to “educate and train high school cadets in citizenship, promote community service, instill responsibility, character and self-discipline, and provide instruction in air and space fundamentals.” It’s one of 66 in the state and the second in Ventura County. (Oxnard High School has the other Air Force Jr. ROTC program.)

Deborah Salgado, director of secondary education for the Simi Valley Unified School District, applied to the Air Force for the program when she was principal at Royal.

“The Jr. ROTC fits in very nicely with the Ronald Reagan Citizen Scholar Institute that we are developing,” she said. “It’s a highly-visible, well-respected program. It opens doors for our students. It’s a college-prep program and participation in Jr. ROTC helps some students acquire scholarships. And student leadership is a big part of this program.”

Laurie Herman’s daughter, Alexa, is in the Bravo Flight class. She said that after watching her ninth-grader these past months, Herman loves this program because of what it teaches.

“It bonds them in a certain way that’s really positive,” she said. “These students have goals and dreams.”

Eleventh-grader Jasmin Grewal serves as cadet second lieutenant for Bravo Flight. She joined the Jr. ROTC because she wants to pursue a military career and is working toward her acceptance in the Air Force or Naval Academy after high school.

On uniform day, Jasmin readily helps her fellow female cadets on the details of wearing the uniform correctly.

“Your name tags need to be centered between the button and the shirt seam,” she said as she helped pin a tag in place.

The other cadets said wearing the uniforms for the first time that day made them stand out, but no one teased them in a bad way over it.

“Someone told me, ‘Don’t let anyone tell you differently. You look fabulous!’ And that helped a lot,” said Cadet Hayley Richardson.

“One of my friends said they wanted to join ROTC so they could wear the uniform,” Cadet Maria Lanuza said. “You feel better about yourself when you’re wearing it.”

 

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