HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. --
Air Commandos hosted a Junior ROTC summer leadership school for the seventh consecutive year, June 26-30, here, providing nearly 60 cadets from five local high schools with a week of hands-on experience in military affairs and mentorship.
The cadets lodged in the permanent exercise facility on base and took part in classes, physical fitness training, and various excursions across base and the local area throughout the week. The beginning of the week focused on academics and learning about the Hurlburt Field mission before transitioning to more hands-on activities as the week went on, including rappelling, a paintball competition and self-aid and buddy care training.
“The cadets didn’t know each other because they’re from five different schools, and we mixed the group up into four flights,” said retired Air Force Col. Aaron Lehman, the senior aerospace science instructor at Pensacola High School. “By the third or fourth day, we saw them coming together, working as a team and following their leader and listening to their orders rather than grumbling about it.”
Considering the large military presence in the area with the close proximity of Hurlburt Field and Eglin AFB, many of the cadets are used to seeing the aircraft assigned to the two bases flying overhead, but this course let them experience something most Americans only ever dream of: a flight on a military aircraft.
Air Commandos from the 8th Special Operations Squadron flew the cadets on a CV-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft, giving them a demonstration of real-world operations.
“When I heard there were better options to get into college than playing sports, I thought ‘Yeah, I’d like to see what it’s like in the military,’” said Marshawn Moore, a junior at Pensacola High School. “I loved being at Hurlburt Field. It was an awesome trip.”
The school is the brainchild of its director, retired Air Force Col. Ken Rodriguez, who was not satisfied with the very limited incarnation he saw in the past.
“I thought, ‘We can do better than this,’ so we started asking a few units at Hurlburt to help us out,” he said. “Bit by bit, the basic format we came up with then is still what we have now. It’s a full-up program, with the cadets sleeping here, eating here in the dining facilities, and relying entirely on the base facilities while they’re here.”
The 1st Special Operations Wing is responsible for rapidly planning and executing specialized and contingency operations in support of national priorities, and yet didn’t pass up the opportunity to instill knowledge and excitement about that mission in a group of ambitious young Americans.
“Team Hurlburt is proud to host the summer leadership school and give these cadets some real, first-hand knowledge about the many careers available to them in the Air Force,” said Col. Steve Breeze, 1st SOW vice commander. “JROTC helps instill young adults with a sense of discipline and duty, two traits tantamount with the Air Force core values. Hopefully the experiences they had over the last week will inspire them to explore the opportunities available to them in the Air Force, and maybe some will even return one day as our next generation of Air Commandos.”
Rodriguez emphasized the importance of the volunteers to the success of the program; more than 250 Airmen and civilians from the two Air Force bases contributing to the academics, demonstrations and care of the cadets over the one-week course.
“They trained them, mentored them, showed them how to be better leaders and citizens,” he said. “It’s an amazing program because of Team Hurlburt and Eglin, and it’s a wonderful thing to see.”