Ret. Maj. Brian Jimenez tries to instill things like citizenship and character education into the more than 100 Junior ROTC students under his command at Wilson Central High School.
These traits are likely a mixture of things he learned during 22 years in the Marine Corps, including a deployment with Desert Storm, and the curriculum set up by the Navy Junior ROTC program he instructs. And though Jimenez is quick to point out the JROTC program isn’t a feeder program into military, there are some strong military themes he said helps build a sense of patriotism and service to the community.
“One of the stated objectives of the Navy JROTC program is to ‘Promote an understanding of the basic requirements for national security,’” Jimenez said. “I try to communicate to my students that one of the basic requirements for national security is orphans, widows and grieving families. I keep photos on a bulletin board in my classroom of guys I worked with and some of my former students who went into the Armed Forces. Some are fine. Some are killed in action or wounded in action.
“I know that most of my students will not go into the Armed Forces, but I want them all to care about what our service men and women do. I want them to pay attention to the news and, most of all, to have an opinion. The men and women of our Armed Forces are called upon to make incredible sacrifices. For the most part, they don’t mind doing it – as long as it is important to the people of America. They will give their lives.
“If it is important, our servicemen don’t mind making the sacrifice. However, if it is not important to you, the citizen, we should not let them do it.”
Jimenez said that importance carries over to civic duty, and going so far as to let elected officials know if the U.S. should be involved, regardless of the conflict.
“If it’s too much of a sacrifice for these men and women, then we shouldn’t be doing it,” he said.
Jimenez was the JROTC instructor when Wilson Central High School opened more than 13 years ago, and he remains. He said he’s seen the numbers of students involved in the program fluctuate to as high as 125 and as low as the 70s. This year, he had 121 students under his command, seven who will graduate at the end of the month. Just a couple of those, he said, plan to enlist in the military.
“That‘s probably correlated with the violence in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Jimenez said. “I think that was probably the case with JROTC programs across the nation. We have seen growth since then, and it looks like our numbers are going to be even higher next year.
“Surprisingly we don’t have a lot of kids who go into the military right after they graduate. What you see is kind of a pyramid. We lose about 25 percent every year as they move on to the higher grades.
“It’s not really a feeder program for the military. What it does is instill a sense of patriotism.”
Jimenez said one of the main lessons he teaches is not based on military theory, rather, it’s on military awareness.
He related a four-part message he consistently “preaches” every chance he gets. The first is to pay attention.
“When there is news in the world that could impact our servicemen, it is important,” he said.
The second, he said, is to have an opinion.
“I don’t try to tell them what their opinion should be – just that they should have one if there are lives in the balance,” Jimenez said. “When you vote and communicate with your elected representatives, that is how the guys who decide when and where American blood is shed know what opinion is and why you think it is important.”
The third is to cherish what you have, and the fourth is to give something back when the opportunity arises.
Jimenez said one of the most important lessons he taught came about two years ago when he took a group of about 50 cadets to Washington, D.C. during spring break. He said the group took the tour at Arlington National Cemetery, and then he led them to the grave of Michael Stansbery.
Stansbery, a former JROTC cadet under Jimenez, was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2010. Jimenez said he still gets emotional when he looks at a photo in his office of the students surrounding him at Stansbery’s marker at Arlington.
“One of the things that haunts me about this photo is the endless sea of markers in the background,” Jimenez said. “I wept so hard I believe I frightened the children. This is very emotional for me.”
And that’s one of the many reasons why Jimenez attempts to pass on the lessons he’s learned both as a soldier and instructor.
“I know not a lot of these kids are going to end up on active duty, but I want them to care about what our military forces do,” he said. “…I think this is a very patriotic area. Even the students at Wilson Central who are not involved in JROTC, they are always respectful of the military. I think Wilson County is a place where patriots live.”
Jimenez said though it hasn’t been the case in past years, his cadets aren’t involved in any Armed Forces Day events this year.
“We have cadets involved in a Memorial Day service coming up,” he said. “That’s kind of the big thing for us this month.”