Retired Lt. Col. Mark Welborn, senior aerospace science instructor, called the Junior ROTC cadets to attention.
The group — gathered inside the multipurpose room at Lewiston High School recently — quickly stood ramrod straight and looked forward, hands at their sides. Silence and an air of respect filled the room.
“This is a time-honored tradition in our program, something that goes on all through the military services. It signifies a smooth transition of command,” Welborn told the 100-plus cadets.
During the annual winter ceremony, the chain of command is changed. It gives the senior in charge time to dedicate all his or her efforts toward graduation and what lies ahead.
This year, outgoing senior group commander Jonathan Gilchrist told the group the program has significantly changed his life.
“I have had the privilege of starting several groups to help bring the unit and community together, to bond more and to really make it a family,” he said. “I hope through my efforts in the program that up-and-coming cadets will lead by example and push to always meet the challenge that they set for themselves.
“I have made countless memories with some amazing cadets at events like our Winter Outing, Military Ball and through our community efforts at color guards and anything else that may cross our paths,” he said. “I will miss this unit deeply come the day I ship out for basic training on Aug. 26 to hopefully become the best airman I can be.”
The juniors who will take turns being commander and vice commander are Bernadette Racine and Tylon Myers. Myers, who is also a varsity basketball player for Lewiston, gives a lot of credit for his success in life to the program.
“Over my four years in JROTC, you learn a lot of things that society wants you to learn, like discipline and leadership and teamwork, but what you really learn more than anything in this program is that you get out of life what you put into it,” he said. “This program can open up doors and give you a new way of looking at life if you really buy into it, and I think that’s what real life is like.”
He said, “Not all cadets see it as I do, which is why I have done my best in this program, not for my personal gain, but so that others can see things with JROTC, and do things that I have with this program. We are training the future of this country, and I love that I get to be a part of that.”
ME-891 is the unit designation for the program based at Lewiston High School. It also includes students from Edward Little High School in Auburn, Oak Hill High School in Wales, Leavitt Area High School in Turner and Lisbon High School. Any high school within the Lewiston Regional Technical Center area may send students to the program. The state is allowed to have six programs, but the only other Air Force JROTC program is in Brewer.
Many students never intend to follow a career in the military after they graduate from high school; they join for the opportunity to take part in its many extra-curricular activities, acquire discipline and enjoy the social interaction offered by the program, whose motto is “meet the challenge.”