Cadets' lessons on protecting the fold

Four Atholton students attended a symposium on leadership that inspired them, highlighted values

October 20, 2006|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The four Atholton High School students who recently attended a JROTC leadership symposium in Virginia now have a new way of greeting each other in the hallway.

They call each other sheepdog, an in-joke and a compliment that refers to a speech given at the George C. Marshall JROTC Leadership Symposium.

In the speech, Maj. Gen. W. Montague Winfield, the symposium's host, told his audience that there are three kinds of people in the world: sheep, who are opposed to violence and deny the existence of enemies; wolves, who prey on the sheep; and sheepdogs, who protect the sheep.

His words so inspired at least one of the students, Cadet Maj. Daniel Bankman, a junior, that he has decided he wants to be one of the nation's sheepdogs.

"I want to be an imagery analyst," Bankman said. "I could apply my skills and defend my country at the same time."

Before the symposium, he had not been sure he would pursue a military career, he said.

Bankman, like the three other Atholton students who attended the workshop last week, is a leader in the school's JROTC program, an elective at the school that serves as an introduction to the military while teaching about leadership and life skills.

Atholton was one of 36 schools nationwide that qualified to send four students to the symposium, out of 1,645 schools that were eligible. The other Atholton students attending were Cadet Capt. Katie Harrelson, a senior; Cadet 1st Lt. Shaily Patel, a junior; and Cadet Maj. Katie Quail, a senior.

"The experience was amazing," Bankman said. "The generals were really motivational."

To qualify for the symposium - on the theme "The George C. Marshall Principles of Leadership: How They Apply to My JROTC Unit, School, Community and Life" - the students had to work together on two essays.

One focused on Marshall, chief of staff of the Army during World War II, and the other about skills they had gained in the JROTC program.

JROTC, which stands for Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps, is offered at Atholton and Howard high schools. A similar program for the Air Force is offered at Oakland Mills.

It is not a recruiting program, though it does introduce students to the structure and goals of the Army. The curriculum, provided by the Army Cadet Command, includes map-reading, administering first aid, managing conflict and becoming responsible citizens, said Charles Moore, a retired sergeant first class who is one of the Atholton program's instructors.

Moore said he chose Bankman, Quail, Harrelson and Patel to write the essays because they held leadership positions in the school's JROTC program, which has about 150 students.

The students wrote the essays in the spring and found out over the summer they had been accepted. They drove to Virginia with Moore and with Harrelson's mother, Susan Harrelson. The event was held on the campuses of Virginia Military Institute and Washington and Lee University in Lexington.

Patel said that when she first saw the itinerary, she thought it would be boring, one speech after another. But the speeches weren't dull at all, she said.

"Every speech, if it wasn't funny and it made you laugh a lot, it was really inspirational," said Patel. She isn't sure whether she will join the military, she said.

Some JROTC students, including Harrelson, know that they won't pursue military careers.

"I respect the people who want to be in the military, and I love them for defending my country, but it's not for me," said Harrelson, whose interests lie in journalism and drama.

Even so, she enjoyed the symposium, especially meeting people from as far away as Hawaii. "Making friends, that's my thing," she said.

Like the others, she is in her third year of JROTC. The program has given her valuable leadership skills, she said.

Quail has known that she wanted to attend the Naval Academy since she visited for the first time when she was in the seventh grade. The leadership symposium gave her the chance to hang out with other youths who share her goals, she said.

She particularly liked a speech by Brig. Gen. Gina S. Farrisee, she said, because it showed her that "gender and race and anything else can't hold you back from what you want to do."

Winfield promised her that he would write her a recommendation, she said.

Quail said the students were friends before the symposium and are even closer now. And greeting each other in the Atholton halls as "sheepdog" is their way of showing they are part of something special.

"Nobody knows what we're talking about," Bankman said. "But one day we'll be heroes."

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