David Lauderdale

Best of JROTC turn attention to service

Old soldiers never die; they just pass the torch to another generation.

That's what the Hilton Head Island chapter of the Military Officers Association of America tried to do Thursday.

Three JROTC cadets from area high schools were given $1,000 college scholarships by the old soldiers.

From their perspective, chapter president David Pustilnik said, "One of our reasons for being is to promote love of country, patriotism and service to country."

For one of the recipients, Vernetta Duncan of Estill High School, the award is one more step toward rising above sad statistics. Failure haunts the schools in her poor district, which is one of the "Corridor of Shame" districts suing the state for greater support to surmount crushing educational, social and economic deficiencies.

Duncan stands erect, her head held high with quiet confidence.

She told the old soldiers that the Army JROTC program helped give her confidence, motivation and pride. She also said she gets that at home from her parents, Barry and Linnet Duncan.

Her father always told her knowledge is the one thing no one can take from her.

"My parents push me, push me and push me some more," she said.

Duncan plans to enroll at Clemson University and its ROTC program. Her dream is to become a pharmacist.

"I will be able to give back and support my country," she said.

Bluffton High School winner Paul Poulin plans to enroll at The Citadel in the fall.

"My goals are to be a man of God and lead people as best as I can," he said.

Hilton Head High School's recipient, Daniel Jettie, said he was inspired by his older brother Josh, now a Naval officer with a tour in the Middle East to his credit.

"I saw my brother do great things, and I was jealous," he said. At first, Jettie wanted to beat his brother. Now he wants to be a Marine Corps pilot.

"ROTC turned something on for me," said Jettie, who plans to enroll at the University of South Carolina in Columbia. "It made me a better person."

It gave him a group to belong to, something to take seriously, something that made him work and try his hardest.

Parents said ROTC made their children realize what authority is, and leadership.

The men who run the three programs say student participation is strong, though few who start it remain with it all four years.

The cream of that crop was rewarded by old soldiers who hope they pick up the torch and continue the march.