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Photo by: John Whipple
Corps Values

Junior Reserve Officer Training programs promise to develop the leaders of tomorrow, but critics claim that JROTC instead produces followers and fresh recruits for the military

When the order comes, it’s difficult not to snap to attention. Even as a bystander, for whom the order is not intended, you feel yourself straighten slightly as the brigade commander and his small staff sharply march the length of the field, inspecting row after row of uniformed young men standing ramrod straight in the sun.

There’s an air of vigilance and expectation over Evelyn J. Puleo stadium, and of careful supervision. In turn, the ranks tighten subtly as the brigade command passes, the young officers of Christian Brothers Academy conscious, no doubt, of their own superiors nearby: Principal David McGuire stands at the field’s edge, coolly assessing the proceedings behind his sunglasses. The director of guidance, Brother Aloysius Myers (“Brother Al”), watches proudly from the perimeter. “This is the year 2004. These are high school students, standing out there like that. It’s wonderful,” he says, his obvious satisfaction and appreciation combining with his monk’s garb to make him appear almost rapturous. And, perhaps most importantly for the task at hand, Senior Army Instructor Col. David Boudreau is there, as well, observing from the track.

Col. Boudreau oversees intently, explaining the procedures but offering few prompts. Approaching the field, he had rounded up some stragglers (“Let’s go, gentlemen”) and issued a quick corrective (“Adjust those pants. That’s not wearing the uniform.”), but at the moment he is content to leave the bulk of the ordering to the ranking students. In part, it’s that he wants them to be comfortable with their authority, he says. And, in part, it’s an apparent belief that the cadets should be fulfilling expectations even without the orders, that by their junior year, the cadets should know, exactly, the drill: “By this time the seniors should be polishing the underclassmen; not training them. That’s the goal I’m after.”

An officer barks, “Bring your unit to present arms!” and successively the unit leaders snap off their commands: Dummy rifles are brought to order and presented crisply; the regimental band kicks in with the national anthem; and, more or less as one, the field of 350 some-odd students salutes.

Boudreau is explaining the rank structure of CBA, and pointing out that due to the size of the school’s Junior Reserve Officer Training Corp (JROTC), which is a mandatory program at the academy, there exists at CBA a larger pool of officers than is usual: “Most schools, because of their size, will have one lieutenant colonel; you can see out there, we’ve got six.”

These command opportunities are advantageous, he says, because anyone familiar with military rank structure will understand the significant responsibility of a cadet lieutenant colonel as opposed to, say, a cadet sergeant. According to Boudreau, it’s exactly this type of heightened responsibility—and the ability to articulate the details of this responsibility—that CBA’s JROTC program seeks to inculcate in its students:

“We try to groom them to say, ‘As cadet lieutenant colonel of the battalion, I had between 150 and 130 men that I was responsible for, with two separate companies, and we did these events: We did the St. Patrick’s Day parade, we did this many funeral details, we assisted the school with its open house by providing guides,’ ” Boudreau dramatizes, evoking some imagined future interview the student might have with a college admissions officer or corporate recruiter. “We put them in a position where they’ve got to take a project, assess it, plan it, prep it, and—in this school, where we get so much help from the Mothers’ and Fathers’ Associations and the alumni—it requires a high school student to get face to face with an adult. And particularly when you’re talking with the alumni and the parents—these are people with real professional skills—it puts them on the spot.”

It’s easy enough to imagine that the young men on the field are used to being put on the spot. Boudreau looks every bit the central-casting commander. He, like all JROTC army instructors, is a retired career military man (by regulation, not more than two years into retirement), and is clearly comfortable both with his own authority and with the idea of hierarchy: He is gruffly amiable when greeting Brother Al, joking in response to the brother’s inquiry if all is going well, “I never have a problem, only situations in need of a solution”; when McGuire notes something amiss on the field in a tone that indicates that amiss will not do, Boudreau is deferential with the un-uniformed principal, whom he addresses as “sir.”

For all his good-humor—referring to the unit flags’ historical function of identification on the battlefield, Boudreau exaggerates the words comically, implying the distance between this drill and actual combat—Boudreau’s carriage and bearing speak of self-possession, discipline and order. Though this, and his Army greens and his black beret, immediately connote armed service—and there are all those guns on the field—Boudreau is quick to point out that CBA seeks to develop its cadets’ personal potentials as leaders, not warriors.

“There’s no need for tactics training,” he says easily. “We’re not training soldiers. This is not a recruiting campground for the military.”

“We’re a private, college-preparatory high school, teaching the Christian values of a Catholic high school and the LaSallian Brotherhood. JROTC is just another program embedded within the school to help facilitate those goals. . . . Because it’s a program we have, we have a lot of opportunities to provide them a higher level of discipline.”

There’s something military about John Amidon, as well. But it’s a less comfortable and more explicit marker. It’s more like a scar than a stance. Maybe it’s just the subject matter of the conversation: As they say, familiarity breeds contempt.

“I can tell you a story about military discipline,” the former Marine says. “A really interesting story: One of my drill instructors at Parris Island beat up a recruit in front of the whole platoon, because he didn’t like the way the recruit was conducting himself. Then, he was dragged back to his bunk, unconscious. He and his friend went to protest the brutality; so, he was removed from duty temporarily, and we all had to go down and testify as to what we saw and heard.”

Amidon speaks softly but intently, as he recalls the event from his own late adolescence. “The night before we were due to testify, the drill instructors got us together and said to us, ‘We’re being investigated for brutality, and if the sergeant is found guilty he’ll be removed from his position as drill instructor, his career will suffer terribly, and it’s likely he’ll be demoted and lose income for his family; but if everyone goes down and says they saw and heard nothing, the drill sergeant will be reinstated.”

Amidon runs a hand through his graying hair, but continues without pause: “After this appeal for sympathy and loyalty to the platoon, the drill instructor said, ‘And, what’s more, if any scummy little prick testifies against the drill instructor we’ll kill you when you get back.’ ”

Here, Amidon pauses before delivering the kicker, “And then they said, ‘And the drill instructors won’t have to lay a hand on that man. Isn’t that right, men?’ And we all looked around and said, ‘Yeah, we’ll get ’em for you.’ . . . To a man, we said we saw and heard nothing.”

Amidon is a member of Veterans for Peace, an organization of one-time military men and women who, according to their pamphlet, “draw upon [their] unique perspective as veterans . . . to expose the true long-term costs and consequences of militarism and war.” He is adamant that the brutality of the military is systemic and not just a battlefield phenomenon, and he is equally convinced that military brutalization begins well before boot camp.

He is vociferously opposed to what he calls the militarization of even the public schools, pointing out that in the texts used by most public high schools, “The winner’s side is always told: the good and noble people who did heroic service to their country and democracy and freedom.” He argues that “with this particular presentation of history, by the time you get out of high school you just naturally think that war is a good and noble human activity. That it’s a very important activity, since the whole timeline of human history is structured around it, and that you’re ready: ‘Where’s my war, so I can be good and noble and defend my country?’ And the system is such that, in most cases, your war is there waiting for you—or will be within a very short period of time.”

Needless to say, Amidon and Veterans for Peace take an even darker view of formal JROTC programs. “Why teach war to our kids on a regular basis?” asks VFP member Frank Houde, an Air Force vet who served in Vietnam. “Because that’s, in effect, what we’re doing. Many people try to avoid classifying JROTC as military training—it’s funny. They try to maintain this distance from the military-training aspect, but there is no distance. It is military training.”

Amidon and Houde call attention to a fairly damning report published in 1997 by the American Friends Service Committee, a social welfare group originally founded by pacifist Quakers in 1917 and awarded the Nobel Peace prize in 1947, which examined the functions and results of JROTC training and education. The report is very critical of the JROTC texts, claiming an overtly prejudiced, even racist, tone to its presentation of history, and an over-reliance on the importance of military solutions to geopolitical events. Further, it calls attention to the fact that instructors need not be certified educators, stating that, as career military, JROTC instructors may have as little as a high school diploma or its equivalent.

In its conclusion, the report states, “Untrained in the educational values of a plural, public classroom, the instructors undoubtedly communicate to students the value of a military career and the value of the military itself. Those values, including an emphasis on dispute settlement through force, an uncritical view of American history, and an emphasis on obedience, make JROTC antithetical to the goals of teaching students how to participate in a democracy, resolve conflicts peacefully, evaluate sources, and think analytically. More broadly, it can even be argued that the militarization of education and other social institutions poses a threat to the very continuation of a democracy.”

The report also argues that, claims to the contrary notwithstanding, JROTC programs function as a highly effective recruiting tool. In an appendix, the report presents postgraduation plans of JROTC cadets from 1993: Of the 11,000 students who successfully completed Army JROTC programs, 45 percent went on to enter some branch of the military, a “rate obviously higher than the general student population.” (It must be noted that these figures comprise primarily members of elective JROTC programs in public high schools. Spokesmen at both CBA and LaSalle emphasized their roles as college-preparatory institutions, and claimed college-placement statistics of well over 95 percent. Kane Pigliavento, LaSalle’s director of public relations, said that it was unusual for more than one or two members of any given graduating class to proceed directly to the military.)

Photo by: John Whipple

For their part, Amidon and Houde concur strongly with the report. Houde says succinctly of the recruitment denials, “Bullshit. It’s bullshit,” and Amidon produces an Army document titled Cadet Command Policy Memorandum 50, dated March 20, 1999, that states that the JROTC instructors are to, among other promotional efforts, “actively assist cadets who want to enlist in the military,” “emphasize service in the U.S. Army,” “facilitate recruiter access to cadets in JROTC programs,” “encourage college bound cadets to enroll in SROTC [Senior Reserve Officer Training Corp]” and to “work closely with high school guidance counselors to sell the Army story.”

So, the fact that CBA or LaSalle boasts high rates of college acceptance is somewhat beside the point, says Amidon. “Go ask those boys at CBA if they know of the effects of depleted uranium [a toxic substance used by the military both as a weapon and as a component of armor]; ask them if they know that 90 percent of the women in the military report harassment, or that they stand a much greater chance of being raped,” he fumes. “And one wonders how they can arrive at a justification of violence, given the first commandments of their teacher and messiah that say love God and love your neighbor. To put it kindly, it’s a paradox. . . . And is God on our side as we’re in Falluja, where the majority of casualties are women, children and old people? These are the questions people need to ask, and I don’t think there is any indirect or sensitive way to ask them, because there not anomalies. They’re the brutal and horrific realities of the conduct of our military in particular and war in general.”

‘The military did not warp my thinking,” says Assemblyman Jack McEneny, CBA class of ’61. “It gave me organizational skills and a healthy cynicism about the workings of a large organization and it let me lead.”

McEneny had four years of JROTC at CBA (he graduated as a first lieutenant, and laughingly points out that another alum, Assemblyman Ron Canestrari, made it to the rank of major—the “show-off”). He continued his military education with three years of SROTC at Siena College, and participated in the drill teams at both institutions. Although McEneny did not consider a career in the military, he says that his military training, particularly his experience at CBA, primed him for his career in public service.

He ticks off a list of instilled habits he believes are still valuable, habits the literature of CBA touts today, if not quite as flippantly: “First of all, the organizational skills; secondly, familiarity with hierarchy and working with groups, and with a defined set of rules that you learned to work within or around—in some cases, to evade.”

This flexible ability to negotiate organizational intricacies, says McEneny, put him at an immediate advantage in his political career. “Whereas, for students from a public school, getting into the world of bureaucracy can be foreign.”

And, he is quick to point out, “military” can not always be translated to mean militaristic, conservative or reactionary.

“I’m a very liberal guy,” he says. “I went into the Peace Corps; I worked for the War on Poverty; I supported Jerry Brown; I wanted Howard Dean this time.”

One cannot, he suggests, paint the whole of military experience with one brush.

“It was both Catholic and military,” he points out. “You were not supposed to get a job, you were supposed to get a vocation. You were to give back. So, there was a lot of social gospel being preached, but at the same time it was military. So [in the drill team, which was open to all classes], you learned about relationships and responsibility; there was a natural camaraderie and mentoring. . . . I learned to relate to an awful lot of people. It was a good experience.”

A good experience, and one McEneny believes to be integral to the fabric of America. “I believe in the citizen soldier,” he says. “I believe one of the great strengths of a democracy is the citizen soldier.”

He concedes, however, that “like everything else, the devil is in the details. You’ve got to emphasize school spirit and community as well as military proficiency.”

The cadets gathered around to discuss their experiences at CBA are as varied as the cast of the most stereotypical B-grade war flick: Despite their uniforms—the badges, the insignias, the officer candidates’ braids—what strikes one first about them is their youth. They’re disarmingly enthusiastic and candid revealing their aspirations: Staff Sgt. Matthew Agan wants to be a journalist, and is currently the editor of the school newspaper; Sgt. First Class Steve Astemborski plans for a military career as an engineer, and wants to attend West Point; Master Sgt. Dylan Canterbury, a saxophonist, wants to go to music school and become a professional jazz musician; Cpl. Jeremy Werenechiak might enter the military but, then again, he might chill at Hudson Valley for a couple of years before heading to RPI. Beyond their enthusiasm, the thing that unites them is the unwavering expression of appreciation for and loyalty to their school.

Astemborski admits that the program is rigorous, but claims it’s all for the good: “It’s very, very competitive. But for me, at least, it kind of helps me strive to be my best, to get better, to improve personal aspects of myself. It’s an encouragement.” It was, in fact, the example of an upperclassman, he says, “the model CBA student, who was involved with everything,” that motivated him to look to West Point. “If it wasn’t for that, I don’t think I ever would have wanted to go.”

Canterbury says that his musical career, too, will likely benefit from the the connections he’s made through the school band’s involvement in competitions and performances, not to mention the discipline he applies to his instrument: “It’s all been really great in helping me expand my horizons.”

Even Werenechiak, uncertain as he may be about the specifics of his future plans, is eager to fulfill the expectations of him and is certain that he wants to do right by his school and its mission. “CBA makes a name for itself,” he says with conviction. “I’m gonna help them make that name.”


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