The 137 students serving in North Surry High School’s Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program have surpassed their peers across the state, receiving an overall rating of “Exceeds Standards” on a recent inspection visit.
The honor earned the local unit the “Distinguished Unit Award With Merit” title.
The rating inspected the unit — signified as NC-811 —on unit morale, evidence of teamwork, adherence to discipline, military customs and respect, to name just a few criteria.
Noting that to achieve such an honor is difficult, Lt. Col. John Bowes, a retired fighter pilot, said in order to exceed military standards a unit must go above and beyond what is expected of them.
“This inspection is a big deal,” Bowes said. “Every three years, our unit receives a visitor from headquarters who conducts an inspection that we will have to live with for a long time.”
The inspection compares the performance of the North Surry unit with more than 800 units nationwide.
“We always strive for excellence, but someone has to be in the middle and someone has to be on the bottom of the list,” Bowes said, adding that if he has anything to say about the outcome, “it is not going to be our unit.”
The inspector, Col. Wade Williford, had inspected the unit three years ago and noted that some areas needing improvement were identified, Bowes said.
“(Williford) inspected the unit in the fall of 2008, so he has some history to work with,” Bowes said. “It’s gratifying to see that we had addressed those areas.”
On his report, Williford noted that he was impressed with a briefing given by Cadet Lt. Col. Rocio Escobar.
“The cadet commander provided a detailed unit PowerPoint briefing using the Smart Board,” Williford wrote. “She was at ease, poised and articulate. As far as I was concerned, she hit a grand slam with that brief.”
“It was that first impression that carried us through the remainder of the day,” he said.
While the overall inspection focuses on morale, teamwork and discipline, Bowes said that much more goes into the evaluation.
The unit is graded on seven areas of performance including instructor performance, compliance with the rules and regulations that govern national ROTC programs, Department of Defense policy compliance and cadet operations.
Talking about the effort and dedication of the 137 cadets in the North Surry program, Bowes beamed like a proud parent.
“You always think that the students you teach are doing well compared to other units,” he said, “but it’s not until you actually load them into a bus and travel that you get to compare your unit with other units.
“Time and time again we’ve realized that we’re definitely operating at a higher standard than other units.”
That sentiment was solidified last summer when 11 members of the the unit traveled to West Virginia to attend a summer leadership school for a week.
“There were 180 cadets from five states, and our cadets had more members in the top 10 percent than any other corps there,” Bowes said. “That was solid evidence that we’re accomplishing our mission to build better citizens for America.”
And that, he noted, is the over-reaching mission of ROTC programs.
“This isn’t a recruiting program or a setup to go into the military,” Bowes said. “It’s simply to use a proven military model to instill a sense of discipline, personal accountability, responsibility, teamwork and leadership.
“If 100 percent of the students in our program never sign up for the military, that’s okay with me. If I’ve done anything to help develop these traits in them, I’ve done my job.”
Reach Keith Strange at email@example.com or 719-1929.