By Sarah Colson
When Chamber of Commerce CEO Gary Mabrey attended Science Hill High School 51 years ago, every ‘Topper male student wore a JROTC uniform, the “olive drab Eisenhower jacket,” three days a week. ‘Topper girls could only participate during their senior year if they were elected by the cadet officers to serve as “honorary sponsors.” At last Wednesday’s Science Hill High School Army JROTC awards ceremony, female students sat among their male peers and walked the stage alongside them to receive prestigious awards for leadership and service.
“They (female honorary sponsors) didn’t have responsibilities,” Mabrey, guest speaker for the evening’s events, said. “They wore ribbons and they wore braids, but they were not in command. As I look around this room I see many young women here tonight who are commanders and who have commanded this battalion. And you know what? I like it that way. As a daddy of daughters, I think it’s time young women should be able to go anywhere and do anything that they want to do.”
Mabrey said another difference in today’s program versus the program half a century ago is what’s required of students. During his high school career, a male student graduated knowing he had to enroll in ROTC at East Tennessee State University. If a student completed three years in high school, he was exempt from the first year of service in college. Mabrey said his time in Science Hill’s JROTC program did more than just exempt him from that year. It prepared him for his future career.
Enlisting in the United States Airforce right after graduation, Mabrey served overseas for five years in a non-combative role, was on an island in the South China Sea, in Okinawa, and then served on two military bases in Western Europe.
“All that I learned in the ROTC era for me certainly made drilling, saluting and the basics in my Airforce career easier,” he said.
At the awards ceremony, three cadets were honored for acceptance into military academies around the country after graduation. Senior Cadet Ethan McInturff was accepted to the United States Military Academy at West Point. He is a third degree martial arts black belt and has served as a cadet battalion commander in his cadet battalion. Connor Wilson will attend the United States Naval Academy. Wilson is a four-year varsity soccer player at Science Hill. Josh Simpson will attend the United States Airforce Academy. Simpson is an Eagle Scout and a varsity cross country captain.
“This battalion has such great support from the top,” Mabrey said, “from the principal, from the school board, from the faculty here and of course from Colonel Johnson… What I’ve really seen the last few years is the moms and dads support this battalion the same way they support sports and boosters. I’m proud of you all.”
Mabrey added that he sees not just leaders sitting in the auditorium, but servant leaders.
“Servant leaders are those who give just a little bit more in the course of their daily work,” he said. “They make a difference in their community, in this school, and they make a difference that matters. They leave a legacy.”
Awards during the ceremony were provided from the following organizations: JC Chamber of Commerce, JC Schools, American Red Cross, JROTC Support Assoc., Celebrate Freedom Foundation, Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Veterans, American Legion, Korean War Veterans, Scottish American Military Society, Army National Guard, Military Order of the Purple Heart, Army Recruiting Command, Navy Recruiting Command, Scottish Rites of Free Masonry, National Sojourner’s, Marine Corps League, Sons of the American Revolution, Retired Enlisted Assoc., Military Officers Assoc., Reserve Officer’s Assoc, Assoc. of the U.S. Army, Daughters of 1812 and Daughters of the American Revolution.