Starting next year, it won’t be uncommon to spot some impeccably-dressed students in uniform at Dawson County High School.
Officials with Dawson County Schools recently took a big step toward bringing a Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program to the high school.
Earlier this month, the school board voted to hire a senior U.S. Army instructor to head JROTC at the high school, a plan that’s nearly a decade in the making.
Lt. Col. Johnnie “Chip” Sweatte will come on board this summer to gather materials and set up a classroom.
Sweatte, who is a former recruiting operations officer with North Georgia College & State University, said there are some important lessons to be learned in JROTC.
“It’s primarily focused on responsibility, time management and community service,” he said.
Sweatte said the program should not be confused with ROTC, which “familiarizes a young man or woman with the military, allowing them to contract with the military at some point.”
He said Dawson County High School’s JROTC “will be taught by military staff ... but we don’t recruit for the Army.”
“Students get a familiarization with the chain of command, and they’re responsible for roll call, and they wear a uniform,” he said.
Participants will be required to be in uniform one day a week. After-school programs for cadets include color guard, rifle team and a raider team, which competes with other schools in the state.
Sweatte said these activities “set young people up for success as they go out into the future.”
Superintendent Keith Porter agreed.
“In participating school systems, this program has increased graduation and attendance rates and decreased disciplinary infractions among student cadets,” he said.
Hiring Sweatte, Porter said, “allows us to move forward.”
Sweatte signed a 12-month contract with the school system, funded primarily by the U.S. Army.
The school district will contribute $26,000 annually, while the Army pays $52,600.
Porter said it’s money well spent.
“We’re excited about the opportunities it will provide our kids,” he said. “This is something that can benefit any student at the high school.”
The process of obtaining a JROTC unit at the high school has taken nearly eight years. Porter said local school officials have applied annually for the designation.
Army officials rate applications based on available facilities, geographic location and commitment from the school system.
The need for JROTC in Dawson County is strong, according to Porter.
“There have been a substantial number of students who have shown an interest,” he said.
Sweatte said the program is “going to be fantastic” for those who get involved.
“We’d like to motivate these guys and gals to be the best citizens possible,” he said. “That’s really what it boils down to.”
A longtime Dawson County resident, Sweatte graduated from North Georgia College & State University in 1980 and served 22 years active duty in the Army.