By Johnny Jackson
"It was hard, but you pushed through, and at the end, it was all worth it," said Robert Clevenger. "To earn the title of United States Marine has been by far the greatest thing to ever happen to me," he added.
Clevenger's declaration came Thursday during an interview, as he visited his alma mater, Luella High School, where he helped prepare Navy JROTC Program cadets for their annual Pass-in-Review ceremony. He was visiting the area as part of his 10 days of leave. He used some of his time sharing his military experience, and supporting his former classmates at the ceremony. The 18-year-old completed 13 weeks of United States Marine Corps Recruit Training on Oct. 15, at Parris Island, S.C.
The ceremony at Luella was part of Navy JROTC inspections happening at high schools throughout the area this week.
"I just came here to watch, and they put me to work," said Clevenger, as he congregated with former cadets and instructors.
"It's still a great unit," he continued. "I have a different outlook on it because of the recruitment training that I received."
The marine guided some of the unit's company and platoon commanders in drill sequences, and military protocol, and he recounted his experience in the unit, and what he learned over the four years he took part in it.
"Discipline, terminology... a lot of that definitely helps in recruit training," Clevenger said. " I had no problems in boot camp because of what I went through in JROTC."
Cadet Che Roberts, a junior, plans to follow Clevenger's lead and pursue a career in the marines.
"I joined to get disciplined, and become a better person, and it's been great," said Roberts. He has been a member for three years.
Roberts is still enthusiastic about taking part in the 221-cadet unit's annual Pass-in-Review ceremony.
"It's a busy day; it's a long day," said Gunnery Sgt. Jimmie Lewis, a Naval instructor at Luella.
Lewis said the unit began preparing for its annual Naval inspection about a month ago.
"This is one of my favorite days in JROTC," said Lt. Commander Gino Rice, also a Naval instructor at Luella. "It's where we get all of the cadets together on the same day, in uniform."
Rice said the annual inspections tend to accompany a heightened patriotism and camaraderie among the cadets, who have the singular goal of being graded as an "outstanding" unit among others.
Such is the goal each year for the 186-cadet unit at Henry County High School, which boasts the longest existing Navy JROTC Program in Henry County at 27 years, according to Capt. Steve Seal, one of the school's Naval instructors.
"It's important for the young people to show an outside source how good they are," Seal said.
Many parents turned out to support the unit, at Henry County High School, on Tuesday. The unit performed a drill ceremony to culminate the day's annual inspection as reviewed by United States Navy Commander Rustie Hibbard, the area's Navy JROTC inspector.
Hibbard also conducted an inspection of Stockbridge High School's Navy JROTC unit on Wednesday.
For some in the unit, like 14-year-old freshman Marquis Russell, the inspection was the first taste of a military career to come.
Russell's mother, Monica Russell, was on-hand early Wednesday morning to see her son rehearse company drill commands, before the unit commenced its Pass-in-Review ceremony.
"The military is something he's thinking about doing after graduation," said Monica Russell. "He's been thinking about it for the past two years. He's a good kid. Anything he sets his mind to, he's going to aim for it. I support anything he wants to do."
The proud mother said she is glad to see each of the 182 cadets demonstrate their work over the past several weeks.
"I think it will be something good and positive for them," said Casey Love, the assistant air rifle coach at Stockbridge. Love is also the parent of Shavonte Bennett-Love and Alexis Bennett-Love, both 16-year-old sophomore cadets in Stockbridge's Navy JROTC Program. "Hopefully, this will keep these students motivated, and get them started on the path of righteousness."