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New battalion commander in charge at Riverside
Riverside Military Academy battalion commander Lt. Col. Harrison Summerour talks with new recruit Matt Leberte, his mother, Robin Leberte, and family friend Paul Nestor, left, during orientation. - photo by NAT GURLEY

About this series

This is the first of an occasional series of stories following Cadet Lt. Col. Harrison Summerour, a senior at Riverside Military Academy, through his final year of high school. Summerour is the highest-ranking cadet at the academy, in command of more than 450 students under the direction of academy faculty and staff. Future stories will appear in the Life section of The Times.

Harrison Summerour tried his best to get a good night’s sleep before the new recruits arrived on campus Thursday morning.

As the battalion commander of Riverside Military Academy for the school year, Cadet Lt. Col. Summerour had a lot on his mind.

His role, which he’d only occupied since that afternoon, made him the highest-ranking cadet in the school’s Army Junior ROTC program. Simply put, Summerour is in charge of the school’s more than 450 students under the leadership of faculty.

Summerour, a senior from Dawsonville, admits he feels nervous in his new role but trusts his school’s leaders to help guide him.

“They understand, obviously I’m a 17-year-old that’s got limited qualifications to be in a position like this one,” Summerour said. “They don’t expect me to know everything. But they do expect me to work hard.”

Riverside’s Commandant of Cadets, Lt. Col. J. Kevin Jarrard, U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, said he’s watched Summerour demonstrate the leadership qualities the school looks for in a battalion commander since he enrolled as a freshman.

Over the years, Summerour has taken on a few leadership opportunities and is currently the captain of the school’s football team.

“He commands more people at this moment in his life than he probably ever will again, maybe for 20 or 40 years,” Jarrard said. “He has 500 cadets he’s responsible for. So I mean what kind of CEOs and leaders are responsible for 500 folks? That’s a tremendous responsibility.”

Summerour hopes to make a career out of the military as a pilot after graduation. He plans to apply to the Naval and Air Force academies and plans to major in aeronautical engineering. Over the summer he logged about 23 hours as a pilot in training at the Lanier Flight Center and earned his solo flight endorsement.

Summerour said he’s not one to let opportunities pass him by because he realizes how fortunate he is to have them.

“To whom much is given much is expected, right?” Summerour said. “I’ve been given a ton of opportunities that a normal high school student wouldn’t be able to even think about having. ... I just have to make the most of those opportunities knowing I’m fortunate enough to have them.”

Wednesday night, after a flurry of meetings with staff and the other student company commanders, Summerour lay in bed and thought about everything that still needed to be done before the school’s new students arrived on Thursday.

When he started to worry about whether or not every task would be accomplished in time, he thought about the other student leaders in charge of overseeing the specific tasks.

“I just kind of had to build my confidence in the people around me and put myself at ease,” Summerour said. “I’ve been with these guys for two and three years now at least. I know their capabilities. I know they’re motivated when it comes time to do what they need to do.”

Summerour woke early the next morning to prepare for his responsibilities at the new student orientation.

One of his first tasks as battalion commander was to assist Jarrard in greeting parents and the recruits on campus.

Summerour took his time working his way through the registration area, shaking hands and answering questions as he went.

Summerour explained the school’s newest students are generally most concerned about the 30-day cycle where they’ll be out of contact with friends and family.

“When you have these new guys coming in, they’re having a struggle,” Summerour said. “They’re leaving their families behind for 30 days without contact.”

With parents, Summerour and the other commanders are attempting to “put them at ease” and let them know what they can expect the next time they see their children.

He said the recruits however seem to be concerned about the highly regimented lifestyle they’re about to be forced into and giving up their cellphones.

Summerour said he understands what the recruits are going through. He remembers his own first impression all too clearly.

“After being here for four years, you’d think it would be hard to remember the first day,” Summerour said. “But it’s burned in there.”

From meeting new leaders, learning to stand and salute and adjusting to military life and discipline in general, Summerour said transitioning into life at Riverside is a culture shock.

He said that’s why it’s important for him to help the recruits understand that all of the adjustments are there to help them in the long run.

“People are very impressionable in their first few days,” Summerour said. “It’s important to build a good image in their eyes. So you want to be friendly but assertive at the same time. It’s a hard line to draw, especially when everybody is high school age.”

As the first few days of school, which began Monday, roll on Summerour will have to make sure companies are getting along and running smoothly. He said it can be difficult sometimes to have a “cohesive unit” when personalities inevitably clash.

He’ll busy himself by making sure those he’s in charge of understand what is expected of them.

“You can’t fault somebody for not meeting your expectations if they don’t know what they are,” Summerour said. “You just have to set clear expectations for the commanders. Technically, my job is to oversee the company commanders and ensure they’re handling what needs to be handled on a company level.”

Jarrard said it’s that kind of training, character and leadership development that sets the school apart.

Jarrard said it’s wonderful to watch the young men at the school develop over the years and considers it a privilege to “shepherd” his students.

By graduation, Jarrard expects Summerour’s experiences this year will make him grow as a leader.

“It will make him wise before his time,” Jarrard said, grinning. “The crushing weight of responsibility will make him older than his years.”

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