Leaders of tomorrow: High school senior among JROTC students learning service to country, self-discipline

Pinning insignia on two freshmen being promoted by the Summerville High School Navy JROTC program are Cadet Commander Esteban Salazar (left) and Cadet Executive Officer Amanda Franks (left, behind Esteban). Receiving seaman apprentice pins are cadets Kayla Lofton-Black (right) and (behind her) Fidel Arroyo.

Fennell

The desire to honor his parents' sacrifices and to serve his new country motivates a Summerville High School senior who has received a prestigious national award for leadership and public service.

And across the local counties, JROTC units are giving students the chance to learn self-discipline and honor to country.

Esteban Salazar, who came to America from Ecuador with his parents when he was 8, is cadet commander of the Summerville High School Navy JROTC unit. He was chosen by a committee of Medal of Honor winners to be one of only 11 JROTC cadets nationwide to receive the Legion of Valor Bronze Cross for Achievement.

The 17-year-old Esteban didn't know he was getting the award until it was presented Sept. 12. He said he'd been asked to attend a Dorchester County School District 2 meeting, "and I thought I would be talking to the school board about our unit."

Instead, retired Marine Col. Myron Harrington presented the award as Esteban's parents, Sandra and Esteban Salazar, their daughter, Claudia, and JROTC and school and Dorchester County School District 2 officials looked on. "It was a very well-kept secret, and I must say it was a very proud moment," Esteban said.

The award recognizes cadets with superior leadership, scholarship and community service, a press release states.

Esteban, who has a 3.5 GPA (4.0 in Naval Science), was junior class president and last year served the JROTC unit as the administration officer and platoon leader. "He is highly organized, skilled in teaching younger cadets and is extremely cool under pressure," JROTC officials wrote about him.

There are about 80,000 students in more than 620 units nationwide participating in JROTC, including the 242 boys and girls in the Summerville battalion. High schools in Berkeley, Dorchester and Charleston counties sponsor 21 JROTC programs associated with the Army, Navy or Air Force.

Title 10 of the U.S. Code of law declares the purpose of JROTC is to instill in students the value of citizenship, service to country, "personal responsibility and a sense of accomplishment."

Esteban said he's worked hard because his parents have. "They left everything behind to pursue their dream. They came for a better life in a better country and to start something new," he said. "They sacrificed so my sister and I could have better educations."

He said he's proud to be an American now. "I want to help my country any way I can."

Wando JROTC

Wando High School's Air Force JROTC program fields a 330-cadet corps that is recognized as a "Distinguished Unit" by the Air Force. Cadets provide thousands of hours of community service throughout each year and excel in team competitions while maintaining solid academic achievements, said Wando JROTC instructor John Farese.

He said Wando cadets have won numerous scholarships to prestigious universities, including the Air Force Academy, Merchant Marine Academy and Cornell University. Wando cadets also participate in a yearly foreign exchange program with the Singapore National Cadet Corps, take numerous educational trips throughout the country and experience the thrill of flight with the S.C. Civil Air Patrol and Joint Base Charleston Aero Club.

Most of the cadets also get the opportunity to learn skills during summer leadership programs at The Citadel.

West Ashley JROTC

West Ashley High School Navy JROTC is coming off a great 2010-11 school year and currently has 209 cadets enrolled. "We were selected as a Chief of Naval Education and Training Distinguished Unit as one of the top NJROTC units in the nation, said Master Chief Timothy Strickland.

He said the unit provided 3,500 community service hours and hosted the Area 6 Sail Academy, which drew 64 cadets from North and South Carolina. The unit also hosted two Orienteering Meets, a drill meet and an academic meet with participation of up to 13 schools. It also made field trips to Washington, D.C.; Kings Bay Submarine Base in Georgia; Mayport Naval Station in Florida; Parris Island near Beaufort; and Andrews Air Force Base, Md.

"Our cadets were invited to the USS Yorktown to help read the names of the 9/11 victims. ... Our cadets read 1,000 of the names, as did other units and personnel," Strickland said.

Leadership

Retired Col. Claude H. Davis III, senior naval instructor for the Summerville JROTC program, said the unit is rated best in North and South Carolina. That means, he noted, that Esteban -- as the Legion of Valor winner -- "is the best cadet in the best unit" in the region.

"He's the kind of kid you're going to be reading about in the not too distant future," Davis added.

Actually, the previous two cadet commanders in the Summerville unit also won the Legion of Valor, giving the school an exceptionally rare three-win streak. Last year, Cadet Sierra Wilkerson received the award, and Cadet Andrew White got his in 2009, Summerville Navy JROTC Master Chief Gardner LaMarche said.

LaMarche recalled that even as a freshman, Esteban impressed everyone with his "incredible work ethic." He said he realized Esteban would be an outstanding cadet, but "a lot of high-caliber kids come through here, and I didn't know he (Esteban) would become cadet commander."

Esteban said he'd like to attend the Naval Academy and become an aerospace engineer.

Reach Eddie Fennell at 937-5560.