Lt. Col. Scott Waggoner Shapes Merritt Island JROTC Program into Powerhouse Among High Schools in Florida
By Space Coast Daily // September 21, 2019
The mission of JROTC is to motivate young people to become better citizens
SPACE COAST DAILY TV: Lieutenant Colonel Scott T. Waggoner, U.S. Army (Retired) is the Senior Army Instructor for Army JROTC at Merritt Island High School. While this is his fourth year teaching Army JROTC, he taught Senior ROTC at Florida Tech for two years. Lt. Col. Waggoner teaches grades 9-12, motivating his cadets to become better citizens.
“It is a tremendous opportunity to learn how to serve your nation”
BREVARD COUNTY, FLORIDA – Merritt Island High School can thank Retired Lieutenant Colonel Scott Waggoner’s wife for helping them become tops in the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, or JROTC, program.
“I had retired from the Army and she told me that I was driving her crazy at home and should go get a job,” said Waggoner.
The not-so-gentle encouragement prompted Waggoner to get a job with Florida Tech’s ROTC program for a couple of years, a move that nine years ago segued into his current position as senior Army instructor at Merritt Island.
With the assistance of retired First Sergeant Juan Torres, Waggoner has shaped Merritt Island’s JROTC into a powerhouse program that is considered the top school in Florida for ROTC college scholarships and appointments to the military academies.
“In the last nine years, our cadets have earned 77 scholarships or appointments valued at over $14 million,” said Waggoner.
All the service academies are represented, as well as well-respected institutions such as Florida Tech, Wake Forest, the Citadel and Embry Riddle.
Snagging an appointment to military academies such as West Point is an achievement that equates to admission to an Ivy League university but without the more than $200,000 needed to pay for tuition in those hallowed halls of academia.
The program is so popular that Waggoner has been forced to say “no” to some students vying for the available slots.
“We never turn away freshmen, but in the upper grades, we need to weed out students whose hearts aren’t in the program,” he said.
Merritt Island High’s JROTC currently counts 200 cadets. Their families may be well-off or not so, and they come from varied ethnic backgrounds. Forty percent of the corps are female. In short, they are a microcosm of today’s military.
“As the military is becoming more diverse, so too is JROTC,” said Waggoner.
Although many JROTC students pursue a career in the military, JROTC’s primary goal is not to enlist military recruits.
Created as part of the National Defense Act of 1916 and later expanded under the 1963 ROTC Vitalization Act, JROTC is intended “to instill in students in secondary educational institutions the values of citizenship, service to the United States and personal responsibility and a sense of accomplishment.
“The mission of JROTC is to motivate young people to become better citizens,” explained Waggoner.
“It is not a recruiting tool, however, we do provide valuable training and guidance for young people wanting to join.”
Even though it is not about drawing new blood into the military, JROTC indeed does.
According to figures from the House Armed Services Committee, 30 to 50 percent of graduating JROTC cadet go on to join the military or enroll in ROTC in college without the need for loans and other financial aid.
As college costs spiral out of control, ROTC offers a very viable option for a quality education that won’t saddle students with a lifetime of college loans, as Waggoner always reminds his cadets.
“When the students tell me they can’t afford college, I tell them they have a rich uncle and his name is Uncle Sam,” said Waggoner.
After college students who enroll in ROTC graduate, they segue into an eight-year commitment as an officer in the military, although the eight years need not necessarily be on active duty.
JROT gives students a taste of what to expect with ROTC. The program is present in every traditional high school in the county. Led by seasoned retired officers or senior NCOs, JROTC brings decades of military experience to the classroom.
Waggoner is a prime example of the caliber of instructor the cadets have available. The former Army aviator flew helicopters in Korea and Germany and was stationed at the Pentagon during his 20 years in the military. The Clemson graduate is a product of the ROTC pipeline.
An elective, ROTC at Merritt Island High requires daily attendance. Drill and marching takes place on Mondays, with classroom work on citizenship and history happening Tuesdays and Thursdays. Wednesdays are all about the uniforms and Fridays focus on physical fitness.
Students can opt to participate in teams such as rifle, drill and color guard, as well as the Raiders, which stresses teamwork through demanding physical challenges, including mountaineering.
The color guard often serves as ambassadors for the school, since they are in high demand for a variety of occasions, from special events at Kennedy Space Center or Veterans Memorial Center to private functions.
Waggoner credits the school and the community for his JROTC’s success.
“The school gives us tremendous support and there is a very deep appreciation in this area for the military,” he said.
Whether the cadets choose a future in the military or not, once JROTC and Waggoner have done their job, the students will have the tools they will need to succeed in whatever their chosen career path takes them.
“It is a tremendous opportunity to learn how to serve your nation,” said Waggoner. “JROTC gives young people a purpose.”
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