Cadet Battalion Commander Rachel Pickins grew up in a military family. So, it wasn’t a surprise to her friends and family when she joined the JROTC class at Monticello High School.
“Initially, my goal was to end up at the United States Air Force Academy, so I wanted to have a leg up on that,” she said.
However, during her sophomore year in high school, Rachel decided she wanted to continue her volleyball career after school rather than join the armed forces. But, this didn’t mean she wanted to leave the JROTC program.
One of the many misconceptions about the program, Rachel said, is that cadets are expected to enter the military after graduating high school. While the class uses military structures and disciplines for instruction, the class mainly focuses on leadership skills and community building.
“My interpersonal skills are exponentially better since I began the program,” she said. “Which has really helped me in my role as a captain of the volleyball team. JROTC really taught me how to rally people.”
It’s also a great way, Rachel said, to have a break in the middle of a traditional school day.
“Sometimes it’s nice to be able to get up in the middle of the day and go run around for physical training.”
But the most important takeaway Rachel has gotten from the class are the relationships that she’s built over the years.
“It will really test the strength of your bonds with your friends,” she said, “but I met all of my best friends in this class. We’re still friends even though they’re not in the program any more.”
Her instructors have played a crucial role in her academic career. Rachel explained that they take a personal stake in students' lives, ensuring not only academic success but also their well-being.
“This class is the one time that I’ve felt like I was seen as an equal rather than just another student in class,” Rachel said. “I need this class in my life. I wouldn’t be doing as well in my other classes without it.”
While she doesn’t plan to join the armed forces right after graduation, Rachel said that there are many skills she will take with her as she goes on to play D2 volleyball at Richard Bland College in Prince George County.
“The leadership skills and the discipline are what I will call on most in college, I think,” she said.
If students are on the fence about joining the JRTOC program, Rachel said they should give the class a try before discounting it completely.
“Just try it,” she said, “you’ll never know until you do.”