A Hawthorne High alumnus is hoping to help his alma mater offer a JROTC program to students.
Jose Brooks Sr. graduated from HHS in 1986 and went on to attend Florida A&M University, where he said he discovered the benefits of joining the ROTC (Reserve Officers' Training Corps) on campus.
"I wanted to go into the military," Brooks said. "Recruits would come out and talk to us, but what deterred me was I wanted more exposure to understand it."
Brooks said that while attending college he was standing in the registrar line and a captain offered to take him to the front of the line if he signed up to join the ROTC.
Save and close"I enjoyed the camaraderie and the military principles," Brooks said.
Growing up, Brooks said his mother did the parenting because his dad drove trucks and was away a lot. "The military program gave me guidance," he said.
Brooks said he left FAMU 23 credits shy of graduating because he ended up starting a business.
"I decided to go out and make money," he said. "I dropped out of college, came home and tried several businesses that didn't work out."
Brooks now runs Brooks Landscaping and is looking into starting a food truck business.
He says wants students at HHS to have a chance to experience the JROTC (the version geared toward high schoolers) that is offered at several schools in Alachua County. Currently, Eastside High School, Gainesville High School and Buchholz have JROTC. Two are run by the Navy and one is an Air Force program.
The JROTC aims to, "Promote patriotism, develop informed and responsible citizens, promote habits of orderliness and precision, develop a high degree of personal honor, self -reliance, self- discipline and leadership, promote understanding of the basic elements and requirements for national security, develop respect for an understanding of the need for constituted authority in a democratic society, provide incentives to live healthy and drug free lives, promote high school completion, provide information on a military career."
Brooks emphasizes that participation does not commit a student to join the military: "The kids need to understand you are not obligated to join even if you are in the program for four years."
Brooks continues to lobby for the program by reaching out to the school board and promoting his idea on social media, including local Hawthorne Facebook groups. He says he is willing to go door-to-door to get petition signatures.
"If you haven’t signed anything in the next two weeks and would like to, we will be posting point of contact info on Hope for Hawthorne," Brooks posted on Facebook. "No one will be missed. The Hawthorne High School JROTC movement is in motion!"
Lisa Anna Manning, a Hawthorne resident, responded positively to the idea.
"That's awesome. I wish they had that when my son was in Hawthorne," she commented. "He is now in the Marines and this would have let him rank up faster, but it is a great opportunity for kids to either get started or learn to be a team and how important it is to work together but as one."
HHS Principal Daniel Ferguson supports the effort but says starting a JROTC program is a decision made at the federal level.
"It's a great idea and a needed idea," he said. "However the federal government has a threshold on programs in a geographic area. There has to be so many students to sustain the program."
HHS currently has 222 students, which is about one-tenth of the student population at Buchholz and about one-fifth of Eastside.
Ferguson said until the student population increases, there is not enough interest to attract a program to HHS. "The school district has no control over that," he said, adding that HHS students could reach out to other Alachua County public schools and ask to join established JROTC programs.
Anthony Proulx manages the U.S. Army Cadet Command based in the 6th Brigade region at Hunter Army Airfield in Georgia. He oversees the program in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
He said that the federal government determines how many JROTC are able to be funded and that until a JROTC program ends, another cannot be opened.
"Our major cities are over subscribed," Proulx said about the number of students that participate in the Army JROTC programs.
He explained how the JROTC is funded.
"Congress authorizes "X" amount, and the Pentagon splits it to the four branches," he said. "And the funding cost of instructors and uniforms is split."
Proulx said a JROTC program can't be added, only replace another program—unless the funding level increases.
The application process for a JROTC requires buy-in at the school district level, where approval of a budget item for the cost of the instructors happens.
"It's an order merit list," Proulx said. "An application could go in today and be a top one in the list based on looking at the map where programs are."
Proulx offered an alternative idea: The National Defense Cadet Corps (NDCC) is comparable to the JROTC.
The big difference is that NDCC is funded by the schools, not the Department of Defense. The Army NDCC was founded following the National Defense Act of 1916. Eventually, all four branches offered NDCCs.
Proulx said the process for adding a NDCC program involves filling out the NDCC 3126-1 form.
"The Army provides curriculum and school provides everything else," he said. "It allows you to have a program now versus waiting."