AJHS NJROTC Marches Forward Under New Command

Award-winning unit seeks community service opportunities

By Dana Trumbull

The award-winning Apache Junction High School Navy Junior ROTC is under new “management” this year, as Major William Parker and Senior Chief Dave Patti retired at the end of the 2017-18 school year. Stepping into the big boots are LCDR Gary Lock and Senior Chief Kendra Welchert, who have already marched the young cadets to a new level with an unprecedented early win in the annual Brain Brawl last September, earning an automatic qualification for the Western Regional competition in California. Lock and Welchert, however, have plans for the unit that go beyond trophies. “In the military, your promotion and awards come, not because you’re doing things for that end result, but because you’re doing the right thing day to day,” explained Welchert. “That’s what we’re teaching the kids.”

“We don’t care if these students join the military,” added Lock. “What we do care about is that we all conduct ourselves in a manner that is befitting this – or any – community. The Distinguished Unit designation needs to be a byproduct of that.”

As a part of that goal, cadets are required to perform a minimum of 8 hours of community service before they are considered for advancement in rank. Welchert is asking organizations to contact her with age-appropriate service opportunities in which students may participate (480-982-1110, Ext. 5343 or kwelcher@goaj.org). Welchert posts opportunities, and cadets are responsible for signing up and following through for volunteer hours. Welchert and Lock will coordinate participation for larger events. “We are inundated with requests for our Honor Guard, but we need actual community service hours, as well,” said Welchert.

LCDR Lock and Senior Chief Welchert both come to their new positions with experience as Navy drill instructors, and believe that is an area where their expertise can help improve the performance of the AJHS unit. “It’s a culture shock,” they admit, as this is the first year either has worked as an instructor for a high school NJROTC unit. “It takes a bit to get kids all looking the same, working in unison in drill teams. When you get [Navy recruits] for nine straight weeks in a controlled environment, they learn very quickly; when you have [high school cadets] for 50 minutes a couple of times a week, it’s a little more difficult.” They also plan to work toward improving the cadets’ physical fitness.

Photo above: Sr. Chief Welchert (left) and LCDR Gary Lock (right): new AJHS NJROTC instructors

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