Merritt Island High School JROTC Rifle Team Aiming for National Championship This Week

By  //  February 3, 2020

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Olivia Meholic shot the fourth-highest qualifying score in the nation during the qualifying tourney

The Merritt Island High School JROTC Rifle Team includes, left to right, Mustang Battalion Commander Cadet, Lt. Col. Olivia Meholic, Class of 2020, heading to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University on a 4-year Army ROTC Scholarship to study Cyber Security; Kylie McGuire, Class of 2022, Rifle Team Deputy Commander;  Lexi Schuffert, Class of 2021, Rifle Team Commander; Jay Wall, Class of 2021, Company Commander; and Caleb Hubbard, Class of 2021, Battalion Operations Officer. At far right is retired Lt. Col. Scott Waggoner, Senior Army Instructor for Army JROTC at Merritt Island High School.

BREVARD COUNTY • MERRITT ISLAND, FLORIDA – The Merritt Island High School JROTC Rifle Team has qualified to compete at the U.S. Army JROTC National Championships, set for Feb. 6-8 in Anniston, Alabama.

While the mission of the Merritt Island High School JROTC program isn’t to train students to become soldiers, it does have a strong marksmanship initiative that stresses safety, precision and excellence.

“Competing on the Rifle Team has improved my concentration, discipline and self-control,” said Rifle Team Commander Cadet Captain Lexi Schuffert.

“Rifle team practice is before school at 0630 and you have to be really dedicated to get up that early for practice!”

The three-day national championship event includes competition against the best Army JROTC Rifle Teams in the United States.

The top seven teams will advance to the All Service JROTC National Championships to compete against the best Air Force, Navy and Marine JROTC Rifle Teams in the country.

During the qualifying tournament, Mustang Battalion Commander Cadet, Lt. Col. Olivia Meholic shot the fourth-highest qualifying score in the nation.

The Merritt Island High School JROTC Rifle Team has qualified to compete at the U.S. Army JROTC National Championships, set for Feb. 6-8 in Anniston, Alabama. During the qualifying tournament, Mustang Battalion Commander Cadet, Lt. Col. Olivia Meholic, above, shot the fourth-highest qualifying score in the nation.

Merritt Island JROTC Program is Powerhouse Among High Schools in Florida

Col. 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.

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.

STORY CONTINUED BELOW>>>

SPACE COAST DAILY TV: Retired Lieutenant Colonel Scott T. Waggoner, U.S. Army is the Senior Army Instructor for Army JROTC at Merritt Island High School. 

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.

Merritt Island High School JROTC Rifle Team member Caleb Hubbard prepares for the U.S. Army JROTC National Championships, set for Feb. 14-16 in Anniston, Alabama.

“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.

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“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.

In addition to the rifle team, JROTC students can opt to participate in the drill team 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.

“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.

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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.

In addition to the rifle team, JROTC students can opt to participate in the drill team and color guard, as well as the Raiders, which stresses teamwork through demanding physical challenges, including mountaineering. Raider Competitions are JROTC athletic events that include individual strength tests, distance team running events, first aid events and rope bridge construction/crossing.

In addition to the rifle team, JROTC students can opt to participate in the drill team 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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