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Cadets fall in line for new program
3 JROTC pic
Alex Blake Gay, a sophomore cadet, holds his hat for inspection during a drill exercise last week at Dawson County High School. More than 80 students have enrolled in the new JROTC program. - photo by Frank Reddy Dawson Community News

As Sgt. Steve Pamplin watched high school students arrive for class last week, he noticed something remarkable.


Some of them stood out from the rest, not just in appearance, but in attitude.


“It was eye opening,” said Pamplin, who is second in command of the new

JROTC program.


“The ones getting off the school bus in uniforms ... they arrived with their heads held high,” Pamplin said. “You could tell they were ready to get started.”


Students in the new program at Dawson County High School put on their outfits for the first time Thursday.


More than 80 youths sporting Army fatigues walked the halls last week. Their military garb stood out from other students wearing blue jeans, khakis, collared shirts and sneakers.


For senior Cameron Crunkleton, the uniform was a big selling point.


“It really works for your self-esteem,” said Crunkleton, a student battalion commander in the program. “You see people in the hallway wearing this uniform, and you wave to them. You’re a team.”


Crunkleton recently moved from White County, where an existing JROTC program gave him a leg up in his new home.


“These guys and girls, they don’t know it yet, but they’re going to become a family soon,” said Crunkleton as he watched cadets line up for drill exercises Thursday.


Cadets wear uniforms one day each week in the elective course. They learn about math, history, economics and government, as well as military-related rules and information.


After-school programs for cadets include color guard, rifle team and a Raider Team, which competes athletically with other schools in the state.


The program is overseen by Lt. Col. Johnnie “Chip” Sweatte.


Sweatte came aboard this summer after the school board voted to hire him as the program’s senior U.S. Army instructor.


The JROTC program is the first of its kind in Dawson County, though there are similar programs in neighboring Forsyth and Lumpkin counties.


Sweatte, who has decades of experience working with other JROTCs in the area, said he’s never seen support to rival that in Dawson County.


“I don’t think there’s another program that has had as much support from its community as this one, “ said Sweatte, a former recruiting operations officer with North Georgia College & State University.


Sweatte has seen strong support from his cadets as well.


“I am impressed,” he said. “Two weeks into the program, and they’re taking charge. They’re being responsible.”


For junior Tiffany Crawford, learning responsibility has its perks.


“It helps get you motivated, that’s for sure,” Crawford said. “It makes you want to do better in all things, not just this class.


“This is probably the best program that any school could have really.”


Crawford has plans to go into the military after high school. Fellow student Kassi Coursey, a platoon sergeant, wants to become an Air Force pilot after graduation.


“I thought this would be a good program to teach me some ways of the military,” said Coursey, who quickly rose in the JROTC ranks to fifth in command.


“Moving up depends on your attitude,” she said. “If you have a good attitude and you’re doing great, they’ll move you up. If you have a bad attitude, they can take your rank away.”


Coursey said it’s her favorite high school class by far.


“First period, I’m sitting in there, and I’m thinking: ‘All right, I’m going to JROTC in a few minutes.’ I get all excited about it,” she said.


Coursey and Crawford are not the only young women in the program. Sweatte said about 20 percent of the group is female.


While Coursey and Crawford have plans for the military after high school, Sweatte said the program is not just for students looking to enlist.


He said it 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.”


The JROTC, he said, is “taught by military staff ... but we don’t recruit for the Army.”


Individuals “with the desire to be in this have the desire to be a better citizen,” Sweatte said.


Pamplin, JROTC senior assistant, agreed.


“It’s a leadership course, and it’s a citizenship course,” he said. “We just use a military format to instill those qualities.”


Pamplin said seeing those qualities manifest themselves in the cadets is rewarding.


“The transitions these kids are going through from day one...they’re incredible.”