'All in' Investing in tomorrow—Air Force Junior ROTC
By Lt. Gen. Steven Kwast, Air University commander and president, Air University
/ Published July 18, 2017
MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. (AFNS) -- General of the Air Force Henry H. Arnold said, “We must think in terms of tomorrow.” At Air University we do just that; tomorrow is our focus today.
Throughout America’s history we have seen numerous studies link the education of our children to national security. One such report came in 2012 from the Council on Foreign Relations. In a PBS news interview that same year, former Secretary of State and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice said, “Education could be (our) greatest national security challenge.” While many experts may debate Ms. Rice’s comment and that of these reports, one thing is clear: our educational system produces our next generation of parents, entrepreneurs, politicians, leaders, and warriors. Education indirectly, if not directly, impacts every aspect of our tomorrow. If you and I value the idea of our children having a better life than we do, then our commitment, time and resources need to be “all in,” supporting the next generation’s education.
As president and commander of the Air Force’s Air University, I am committed to a strong and vibrant secondary educational system that develops leaders, enriches minds and inspires service. Why is Air University committed to a strong secondary educational system? General Arnold put it best again: “… our Air Force belongs to those who come from ranks of labor, management, the farms, the stores, the professions and colleges and legislative halls … Air Power will always be the business of every American Citizen.” Simply put, our students today will become the great Americans who may choose to defend our country as Airmen, Sailors, Soldiers and Marines tomorrow. The vast majority, however, will provide health care, plant fields, transform technology, manage businesses and lead our country.
Junior ROTC is the Air Force’s largest educational program. That’s right, our largest educational program is not serving Airmen; it serves high school students in 898 schools across the nation. This is not a mistake. It’s an investment with dividends payable to the United States of America. Air University pours time and resources into your sons and daughters every day, but we want to do more. Our challenge in accomplishing more is balancing current military needs and resources with increasing support to our high school outreach programs. The best way we can do more is to capitalize on partnerships. By joining forces with like-minded organizations, our time, resources and efforts go further.
Junior ROTC is already one of the Air Force’s leading organizations participating in public-private partnerships. Junior ROTC is currently working with over 650 school districts across the nation. Teaming with local school districts has allowed our joint resources to attract and retain top-quality instructors, provide a world-class curriculum and expose 120,000 high school students to amazing leadership opportunities. In fact, we could not afford to do this on our own. If we want to do more we need a larger team. I have directed my staff to explore more ways to partner with other government agencies, elected officials, corporate America and non-profit organizations dedicated to citizenship, leadership and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) opportunities for America’s youth.
Air Force Junior ROTC operates in 49 states and 15 overseas locations, and it is an incredibly diverse student organization with 58 percent minority and 40 percent female students. In 2016, 50 percent of our programs were in low-income Title 1 schools. Our students learn and practice aerospace science, leadership and citizenship tenants. Additionally, last year they performed over 1.6 million community service hours in local communities. Partnering with Junior ROTC provides a unique opportunity to reach students across the country. Junior ROTC brings a lot to the table, and we are looking for opportunities to team with the right people and organizations to make a difference. The bottom line is this, if we want to change tomorrow, it requires we do something today. I’m all in! Are you?