BERLIN — After a considerable public outcry, the Navy has decided to stay at Stephen Decatur High School.
Several months ago, the public learned that the Navy was planning on removing its National Junior Officer Reserve Training Corps (NJROTC) program from Decatur, the largest high school on the shore.
However, the community immediately jumped to the defense of the program with an intensity that caused the Navy to reconsider. Though the NJROTC itself will still be dissolved, a new Navy National Defense Cadet Corps (NNDCC) will be instituted at the school to take its place.
“We are excited about the opportunity that the new NNDCC will create for Stephen Decatur High School,” said Bryan Hamilton, an Instructional Technology Coach at Buckingham Elementary School and a former student Commanding Officer in NJROTC.
Hamilton admitted that the situation wasn’t ideal, as primary funding for a NNDCC program must be provided by its host school, while the Navy finances most of an NJROTC. However, the Navy did agree to consider returning Decatur’s NJROTC status in the future if enrollment conditions were met. For the time being, however, keeping any kind of naval program at the school is more than many locals had hoped for after first learning about the proposed dissolution of the NJROTC.
“It has been amazing to watch the community rally and our grassroots effort reach our Senators, the White House, and of course the Secretary of the Navy,” he said.
Upon learning of the Navy’s plan to disassemble Decatur’s NJROTC program, Hamilton joined with many other locals, some educators, some former alumni like himself, in reaching out to area leaders. The group rallied support by sending out letters, emails and petitions, and even launched a website to get their message out.
The movement quickly gained momentum, traveling through and being endorsed by everyone from the County Commissioners to state delegates.
“Our supporters have responsibly used social media tools to get the word out,” Hamilton said, “and our voices have been heard from the White House to the Secretary of the Navy and beyond.”
Initially, the Navy selected the NJROTC at Decatur, which has operated for 17 years, as one of 19 similar programs to be phased out nationwide. The reason given was that Decatur had failed to meet the minimum required number of cadets enrolled in NJROTC for five consecutive years.
However, the school was often close to the line, falling only six students short of the 100 cadet minimum this year. Additionally, enrollment trends pointed to going beyond the minimum required by the Navy next year, possibly by as many as 20 students.
“We have shown that the program is making positive changes in many young students’ lives, and that the success of a NJROTC program should be based on more than a number,” said Hamilton.
The immediate and dramatic show of support from the community persuaded even Senators Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin to speak out in defense of keeping the NJROTC at Decatur.
“Junior officer training programs like the one at Stephen Decatur High school benefit entire communities,” said Mikulski.
She pointed out that the cadet training program “helps mold the naval officers of tomorrow,” and teaches students “structure, responsibility, and pride of ownership.”
“I’m so proud of the community in Worcester County for speaking up about how important this program is,” Mikulski said. “They deserve a right to be heard. And I’m proud to announce that the program stays.”
Her fellow Senator agreed that, if not for the intense response from alumni, members of the school system, and concerned parents, the NJROTC would have been phased out completely. Cardin called community support “instrumental in the Navy’s decision to establish the NNDCC program.”
Cardin pointed out that the NNDCC itself is a new naval program that was created largely in response to the reaction of the communities around Decatur and several of the other schools that were set to lose their NJROTC programs next year.
“The decision made by the Navy sustains a highly respected and award-winning program,” said Worcester County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jon Andes. “We thank the Navy for reconsidering this matter. We are very grateful to the work of our Congressional Delegation. For our Stephen Decatur High School students of today and tomorrow, this is great news.”
In response to the Navy’s decision to maintain a program at Decatur, the current NJROTC class is planning to hold a celebration on Saturday, May 21. The event was planned weeks before learning the fate of the program, and organizers had left the theme of the party open, stating that it would either be a celebration of the continuation of the NJROTC or a final farewell and reflection on the program’s 17 years’ worth of tradition.