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Now, as she prepares to graduate this June, she is the program’s Cadet Lt. Colonel—the highest rank attainable. She is also the school’s valedictorian, and for those achievements and her community service work she has been awarded a full four-year college scholarship worth $75,000.
|COMMANDING RESPECT—Cadet Lt. Col. and class salutatorian Asia Johns stands at ease in the JROTC practice area in Oliver High School. For her academic, community service and program success, she won a $75,000 scholarship.
“I tried it and I fell in love with it,” she said. “I like it because it’s very hands-on. It’s run like a battalion, by the students.”
Retired Lt. Colonel Michael Cassetori is the program’s senior army instructor, and said Johns is an exceptional cadet and great person.
“Promotion is all based on leadership ability and results—that’s why she is where she is,” he said. “This is an inner-city school and these kids don’t fool around. They know the benefits, we’ve had 25 scholarship winners in the last 12 years. So, they are motivated. It’s the best kept secret in the Pittsburgh Public Schools.”
Currently there are 82 students in the JROTC, that is down from the 138 in the program when Johns started four years ago, Cassetori said, due to district population loss, transience and competition from charter schools.
Johns commutes from Homewood where she lives with her step—father, a brother and younger sister. In addition to her ROTC duties and regular high school studies, Johns also takes sociology and psychology classes at Community College of Allegheny County three days a week.
“I’m also on the varsity softball team, student council, the yearbook committee, and Changes, which is a public service project partnership with suburban schools,” she said. “I also work part-time as a cashier and in the office at the Bloomfield Sure Save.”
Though the bulk of the cadets’ JROTC training involves classroom work, they also practice Drill Team, Color Guard and Honor Guard duties as well as Marksmanship. The program also offers a summer camp with more field-oriented training including obstacle courses and map reading and navigation.
Cassetori said other than the quality of his cadets, the reason for the program’s success at Oliver is its facilities. The program’s offices, dedicated classrooms and practice space occupy what was the old basketball gym and have been recognized as the best in the mid-Atlantic region.
“We’ve had wonderful support from Oliver and from the district, and that has translated into major recognition. This program is a Distinguished Honor Unit—the highest award given by the Army—and we’ve held that distinction 15 years in a row,” he said.
The program is currently in the process of preparing for the annual inspection, which is handled out of Ft. Dix, N.J. As the ranking cadet, Johns is tasked with preparing the inspection briefing.
Though she earned the scholarship, Johns is under no obligation to continue in the military. She is considering it though. If she did, at the end of college, she would enter the Army as a Lieutenant and would owe them six years of combined active and reserve service. In the fall she will attend Slippery Rock University to study physical therapy.
“I’m leaning towards staying in the Army, making a career of it,” she said. “I have, and still do recommend this program to people all the time. It can give you a jump start on the military, and even if not, it teaches you discipline, helps you to set goals—just to be a better person.”
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