The cadets in Whale Branch Early College High School's Marine JROTC unit have high expectations to meet.
The 118 students in the unit, which was officially activated Wednesday, are expected to be school leaders. Principal Priscilla Drake hopes what they learn about discipline and respect will ripple through the rest of the student body.
Although James Altobello has only been in the program a week, his mother, Tina Turner, said she's already seen a difference in her freshman son.
"He's standing firm and tall -- it shows confidence," she said, adding that she no longer has to remind him to pull up his sagging pants or to say "ma'am" and "sir."
Although Whale Branch High students participated in a Marine JROTC program last year, it was a satellite program of Battery Creek High School. Wednesday's activation -- and the hiring of Maj. Joey Martin and Sgt. Maj. Dwayne Farr as the program's Marine instructors -- make the school's unit its own.
"It gives them that sense of ownership, that this is mine and not part of some other school," Drake said.
The Whale Branch unit is the fifth JROTC unit within Beaufort County's high schools. The Marines are at Whale Branch High and Battery Creek High, the Army at Bluffton High, the Navy at Hilton Head Island High and the Air Force at Beaufort High.
At Wednesday's ceremony, the unit was presented with its colors, and school and district officials gave short speeches. At the end, Farr led the students in a thundering call and response.
"Who are we?" Farr bellowed.
"Whale Branch!" they chanted.
Martin, the senior Marine instructor, said he's looking forward to the Superintendent's Cup, an annual competition among the district's high school JROTC programs. He joked in his speech that he was targeting Lt. Col. Ray Ganas, the head of the Battery Creek Marine JROTC program who led Whale Branch's program last school year. Battery Creek High has won each of the previous two Superintendent's Cup competitions.
Ultimately, Martin sees his job as helping his students graduate from high school and go on to a great future.
"We're instilling in the kids honor, courage and commitment," he said. "We're teaching them to be leaders and contributing citizens."