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Today (Thursday morning), a caravan left Grant County High School at 4:30 a.m., headed for Molena, Georgia.
Their mission: bring home honors from the U.S. Army Raider Nationals.
Members of the GCHS JROTC Raiders have been running, sweating, climbing and preparing almost daily for this national invitation only event for weeks, even years.
Command Sergeant Major Charles Duffee, who oversees the GCHS program, said the trip to nationals began four years ago when Eric Napier served as battalion commander for the GCHS program.
“That’s when we began to prepare our team, knowing it would take us three to four years, to have a group that is ready to compete,” Duffee said.
“The last thing we wanted to do was take a team down that wasn’t ready to compete at this level, but now we are at the point where they deserve to go,” he said.
He predicted the winning team would have to complete a five-kilometer cross-country course in less than 20 minutes.
“That’s smoking,” he said.
Duffee likened the JROTC competitions to an eight to 10-hour football game.
“There are no rest breaks, no lunch, just competing all day long,” he said. “And you must have skill, endurance and strength.”
The GCHS group will be competing in three categories: a all male team, a mixed team with at least four female members and a female team.
The GCHS raiders are part of the 7th Brigade, which consists of team’s from Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio and parts of Indiana, West Virginia and Michigan.
“The road to the competition didn’t just happen, it’s been the kids working hard to get there,” Duffee said.
During the last four years, the GCHS JROTC has seen increasing success at competitions.
Four years ago, under Eric Napier, the team won 36 trophies followed by 38 trophies under Cory Gray, 47 trophies under Jacob Parker and 53 last year under Randy Hubbard.
“We’ve got kids on a good day who can compete at this level and I feel like, by the time, we get there we’ll be in the hunt,” Duffee said.
The JROTC program at GCHS began with the 2005-2006 school year with three students. There are now 250 students enrolled. They train at least four days a week, often more as competition season approaches and all members must maintain a 3.0 Grade Point Average or they are not allowed to compete.
Duffee said there is a misconception about the JROTC program and classes because it’s not recruiting for the military.
“We teach political science, U.S. history and government, health, physical training and geography,” he said. “It’s not an easy curriculum and we’re committed to doing everything we can to make sure the cadets are successful at life.”
The JROTC program was the first at GCHS to receive national certification, Duffee said.
The trip to nationals cost $11,500. The Grant County Board of Education allocated ?, while the rest came from fundraising efforts.
The Raiders also have an active parent organization that travels with them, cooks meals at the competitions and plans fundraisers. Teresa Hill serves as president of the boosters.
“We are fortunate to have a boosters group that works hard to support us,” Duffee said. “We couldn’t do it without them, as well as the support of the community.
Win or lose, Duffee said the cadets will work hard to bring honor to the competition. The GCHS “Dog Soldiers” will be competing against 125 other JROTC programs.
GCHS will be lead by Cadet Alex Smith, battalion commander; Cadet Sarah Leonard, battalion executive officer and Cadet Cole Simpson, command sergeant major.
“It’s going to be a dog fight, but we’re good enough to be at the top of the pile,” he said.