Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

ROTC Team Positioned to Excel

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

ROTC Team Positioned to Excel

Article excerpt

The Naval Junior ROTC program at Orange Park High School won four national titles under Cmdr. Charlie Lusk in the early 1990s.

John Fitzpatrick wants to add a fifth title to that list early next year.

"I think we have the talent to do it," said the retired Navy captain. "The kids are working hard and I would expect us to make a good run for it in April."

The Orange Park cadets have won the three field meets they entered this year, at Jacksonville University, Nease High School and, the latest, at Tulane University in Baton Rouge, La. They are busy preparing for three more meets early next year in hopes of getting invited to the nationals in Great Lakes, Ill., over spring break.

"The students practice hard and devote a lot of time to it," Fitzpatrick said. "They are a great bunch of young men and women."

Field meets consist of competition in academics, marching and athletics. The competition is tough and two or three points can separate the top three or four teams, Fitzpatrick said.

Fitzpatrick took over the program at Orange Park in January after six years at Lee High School. He retired from the Navy with 27 years of military service, mostly with the A-7 squadron at Cecil Field. "It felt like I was there for forever," he said.

The national title is on the minds of some of the Orange Park cadets, too.

"I'd love to see our flag out there for people to see," said Corey Johnson, 16, a junior and a three-year member of the corps. "The team works hard and how we work together will determine how well we do later on."

Like many of the cadets in the program, Corey is from a military family. His ambition is to get an ROTC scholarship to college, either Tulane or Jacksonville University, get into officers' candidate school and "learn to fly F-18s."

Jessica Green, too, would like to get a scholarship, but she would prefer to become an air-traffic controller like her father, a master chief in the Navy.

The third-year ROTC cadet sees the ROTC program as the means to an end.

"We have a future here, and they don't have anything," she said of some of students who don't get involved in extracurricular activities. …

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