This has been a very busy year for the Vineland Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (AFJROTC) program, which has an affiliate group in the Vineland school district. Two years of living in the virtual world, the inability to drill and march, wear the uniform, and participate in the things that tie the cadets and the program together has been a strain on the program.
According to Lt. Colonel William Spence, traditionally in the program, the upperclassmen lead the new cadets. Cadet-led, cadet-run is the mainstay of the USAF guidance for the program. But what does one do when the upperclassmen, as well as the new cadets, haven’t experienced drills or uniform wear? To the credit of cadets and instructors, everyone pulled together to do so. As the year closes out with better weather, the cadets are drilling extensively so that by next fall the program should be fully back on track.
The year began with a plethora of activities. There were two Curriculum In Action (CIA) events as termed by the USAF (otherwise known as field trips). The first was to JAGOne Physical Therapy. Every Friday is the cadets’ Wellness Day, a more intense version of gym class. In order to enhance the knowledge of dealing with injuries, the AFJROTC was given a fantastic presentation by the team of JAGOne. The cadets enjoyed the visit and learned a great deal.
The second CIA trip was to the Millville Army Air Museum, a facility and team dedicated to teaching about the unique history in this region and in particular regional aviation, which perfectly mirrored what was taught in their Aerospace Science course “Milestones in Aviation History.” This Capstone event for the course was a learning experience as both military veteran guides of the museum and the cadets enjoyed getting to know one another.
One of the Community Service events this year entailed doing a trash litter pick up throughout the entire high school complex this spring, as much litter was deposited by the winter winds. This campus beautification process was well received by the cadets and they took pride in what they accomplished.
The AFJROTC went to several middle and elementary schools this year, as well. One, in particular, the cadets found touching was the Rossi School reading event. The cadets went to the special needs class and read to all the students. The incredible bonding experience of a child with a teen led to many smiles and hugs and a moving event for teachers and the AFJROTC instructor. At the end, the cadets showed the students how to salute and do some basic drills. It was hard to say who had the most fun as all enjoyed this event and desire to do so again next year.
This spring, the program got a major boost from the Valley Forge Freedom Foundation and the MOWW (Military Order of World Wars) groups. They combined to have an education event at Valley Forge National Park and at Independence Hall in Philadelphia. They fund one cadet to attend and this year Lt. Colonel Spence was able to secure six scholarships for it. The response back from the cadets was outstanding, but the letter from these groups even more so. They applauded our cadets and in particular, of all 76 in attendance from around the country, our very own Cadet Anthony Gonzalez was chosen as the top cadet. Congratulations to Anthony! Also participating were Cadets Austin Nordberg, Mark Lis, Caryeen Hughes-Alves, Carlos Villanueva, and Silvia Abarca Velasquez.
The grand event this year that tied everything together and allowed everyone in the program, cadets, school and district staff, and instructors to “let their hair down” and enjoy the culmination of this busy year was the Military Ball. Over one hundred guests attended the event in the gym of the former Vineland High School, now the Landis Administrative Offices, on Landis Avenue. Balloon arch, DJ, video presentations, and photo booth were all on hand to make it an enjoyable experience. The big centerpiece of the event was the “Grog Bowl,” a venerable item of all British Officer Club events that was picked up by the Army Air Corps (later USAF) during WWII. If a member of the mess makes an infraction, they have to present themselves to the bowl, salute and drink. All enjoyed the good-natured ribbing and the camaraderie that this causes. Once the meal was complete and the bowl put away, the cadets went on to dance away the rest of the evening. All in attendance agreed it was a spectacular event and are looking forward to next year’s event.
Most recently, on May 25, Col Johnny McGonigal, AFJROTC Director, conducted a Cadet Town Hall with the VHS cadets via Zoom, the first of its kind. The approximately 45-minute meeting was a successful exchange of information. Col. McGonigal first gave a brief opening bio, noting that he originally grew up a “farm boy” in rural Missouri. He said he was convinced by others to enlist in the Air Force because people there either ”worked in a factory, worked on a farm, or didn’t work at all.” A question and answer session followed. A highlight of the Cadet Town Hall was the introduction of a former VHS cadet Kaylee Roig, who graduated last year and was home visiting after technical training where she is now an Airman 1st Class in Security Forces. The cadets greatly enjoyed participating in the town hall and were grateful that the Director could spend time meeting with them. The cadets anxiously await next fall to grow and take even more ownership of their program.