By James Wright, Special to the AFRO, jwright@afro.com

D.C. students in Junior ROTC were recently honored by the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, Orient of the District of Columbia. The Americanism Committee presented “A Star Spangled Evening” to acknowledge the accomplishments and achievements of District high schoolers who excelled in their Junior ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps) units. The ceremony took place at the Scottish Rite Lodge in Northwest.

“We have found consistently that the best, brightest, and most patriotic students in high schools are ones who participate in Junior ROTC,” Robb C. Mitchell, who chairs the Americanism Committee, said. “We want to honor these outstanding young people for what they do.”

Junior ROTC is voluntary military training that takes place in high schools and some middle schools in the U.S. and its bases abroad. All of the branches of the military sponsor Junior ROTC.

The purpose of the program is to introduce military careers to young people and to instill a sense of patriotism and citizenship. The programs at the school are led by retired military veterans who are paid by the federal government.

Students who participate in Junior ROTC aren’t required to join the armed forces after graduation from high school but those that do are given a higher rank than the normal enlistee.

The program consisted of presentation of the colors by the D.C. Public Schools Multi-Service Color Guard, a toast to the flag, the Pledge of Allegiance and a performance by the Eastern High School drill team of their routine with rifles.

The speaker for the event was U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Darryl W. Burke, who encouraged the cadets in three areas. “You should always set an example, never give up, and give back,” Burke told the audience. Burke used examples of pre-Revolutionary War patriot Nathan Hale, who he noted was 18-years-old when he was hanged by the British for not betraying his country, and Joan of Arc, the French heroine who led her country’s army at age 19.

“Joan of Arc told her charges to set an example and that is why they were successful in battles under her leadership,” he said. “You can set examples in many ways and you have to prepare yourself. Make sure that whatever you do, you have an alternate plan.”

Burke told the cadets that “you will meet a lot of people who will help you and even though I am a general, I still have people who will help me.” He ended his remarks by telling the cadets “don’t let anybody tell you, you can’t do anything.”

The cadets were honored with plaques in leadership, Americanism (effort in the program), and as National Sojourners (students who deserve special recognition). Students from the District’s public high schools, charter schools including IDEA and Washington Mathematics Science and Technology, and private schools such as, St. John’s College High School, were honored.