Earlier this year, the fate of R.O.T.C. programs in colleges was in the air. Funding was short, but Governor Bryant saved the program. Now, as military budgets are being cut, the competition in high school J.R.O.T.C. is becoming more competitive. Laura Coutee, J.R.O.T.C. Leader at Biloxi High School, says, "Whenever I was a freshman in high school, when I first started, I was really shy, really quiet, really afraid to get out of my comfort zone, and what we're doing today is way out of my comfort zone. I wouldn’t be able to do this without it." Today, Coutee and her fellow cadets are visiting Harrison Central High School to practice for the ‘King of the Hill’ competition next month, a competition that tests physical endurance and team work under pressure. Coutee says that without the J.R.O.T.C. experience, she wouldn't have the life goals she has today.
Coutee also says, "I plan to go to the University of Southern Mississippi and I’m gonna’ do that R.O.T.C. program there and hope to go into the Air Force." Earlier this year, collegiate R.O.T.C. programs were on the chopping block in Mississippi, but thanks to Governor Bryant, they were spared, right in the nick of time it seems. As U.S. military budgets are becoming smaller, the competition to rank in the military is getting stiffer. Sergeant Henson, the J.R.O.T.C. instructor at Biloxi High School, says, "The budgets are getting stricter with the military. Now with all these cuts, it’s getting harder and harder to get in the service now and more competitive." Sergeant Kimbale Caesar, the J.R.O.T.C. instructor at Harrison Central, says, "If they do decide to go right into the military, they actually go in as a higher pay grade, and then if they decide to go into the senior R.O.T.C. programs, a lot of the things we teach here go with them there."
According to Caesar, about 40% of these students will pursue military careers, but before moving up those ranks, they first have to prove their physical and mental toughness against each other. Twelve south Mississippi schools will go head to head for the top spot. May the best team win.