A Junior ROTC cadet from Barnwell High School in Barnwell, S.C. clings to one of the many obstacles on the Confidence Course during the Junior ROTC Cadet Leadership Challenge, June 5. Cadets from across South Carolina attended the six-day leadership challenge. 

Not your average summer camp

Story, photo by Emily Hileman, Fort Jackson Public Affairs

Fort Jackson is no stranger to cadets in the Reserve Officer Training Corps, but this week it saw an influx of cadets of a different kind – more than 500 high school students arrived June 3 to participate in a six-day leadership and teamwork building opportunity called Junior ROTC Cadet Leadership Challenge.

“We’re challenging them,” said retired Command Sgt. Maj. James Sypher. “We’re bringing all these kids together from different schools and none of the cadets here have any of their instructors as cadre, so it’s a great opportunity to have them share their experiences with each other and learn new things.”

The cadets arrived and received their first taste of Army life by in-processing and receiving their official safety brief. Students were placed in one of four companies, and they were intentionally separated from many of their peers, their cadre, and worst of all for them – their cell phones.

“We took their cell phones away Sunday,” said retired Command Sgt. Maj. Richard Brown, safety officer for phase one of JCLC. “So, they have to talk to one another and before they leave here on Saturday, they have phone numbers that they put in the notebooks we give them and they may have made lasting friends, sometimes forever.”

Although the first day and night may be lonely for cadets, Brown said they quickly start to find solace in their teammates who are experiencing the same thing, much like what happens to Soldiers in Basic Combat Training.

“If you’re lonely and I’m lonely, I’m going to go over and say something to you and the bond starts right there,” he said.

Beginning Monday morning and continuing through Thursday evening, students participate in a variety of activities seen by typical trainees at Fort Jackson such as the Confidence Course and the Teamwork Development Course. More unique activities are also sprinkled throughout their week at Fort Jackson such as archery, canoeing and Science, Technology, Engineering and Math activities.

Nearing the end of an action-packed week, cadets are given another taste of military life as they participate in a mandatory fun event, also known as Org Day. During Org Day, students gather, eat, laugh and exchange experiences with peers from their own schools they were separated from as well as new friends made through the five-day experience.

After a long week of physical and mental challenges designed to strengthen the students’ leadership and communication abilities, they graduate and return back to their homes, forever changed by the experiences they received on Fort Jackson.