CORVALLIS - The first ROTC program in the Bitterroot Valley kicked off early April, and has so far been a source of structure and fun for 18 young cadets.
The Bitterroot Valley Military Program is run by veterans of all military branches and backgrounds.
Its goal is to instill respect, self-confidence and dedication into the youth of the valley, all while emphasizing the importance of staying drug free.
“I’m hoping with this program we can take some of these kids that want to be here– again, this isn’t a scared-straight program, they want to be here,” Sean Smothers, one of the veterans who founded the program, says. “They want to develop themselves, they want to take the initiative and develop their own leadership abilities. And I think that that will ultimately benefit our community.”
The camp was made possible by the veterans who volunteered to help instruct the kids, Corvallis School District superintendent, Pete Joseph, who supported the program and gave it a space at Corvallis High School, and the American Legion.
“I’m very pleased with how quickly this got going because a program like this would usually take a good year just to get the paperwork going, and we stepped off in just a matter of months,” Smothers says.
Each Saturday, the youth participants undergo drill exercises, physical training and classroom instruction.
The military-style physical training is one of the hardest aspects of the program, according to the cadets, but can also be one of the most rewarding.
“I really like having a tough, like, dedication to go after– something to chase,” Griffyn Lux, a seventh grade BVMP cadet, says. “And I love to work and run and stay active.”
“I know that the physical training is a little difficult, but I’ll get through it,” Aava Nelson, a high school junior BVMP cadet, says.
The instruction piece of the program ranges from military history and tradition to drug awareness.
On Saturday, May 13, the Ravalli County Sheriff’s Office spoke to the cadets about prevalent drugs in the Bitterroot Valley, including fentanyl and methamphetamine, and the consequences of these substances.
“Usually the [classroom] topics are very interesting and they seem useful in life,” Tanner Shavers, an eighth grade BVMP cadet, says. “Like today, we had a ‘say no to drugs,’ but it wasn’t that. It wasn’t your average school thing like ‘oh, don’t do drugs.’ It was showing the harsh reality of what happens if you would do them.”
The same day, an active duty service member demonstrated to all the young women how to do their hair under army requirements. She also answered their questions about basic training and further military service.
May 13 was a celebratory day, as a few of the cadets were chosen to be promoted.
“We need to establish a hierarchy within the cadets, so they can start teaching each other, they can become the leader of their peers, and that’s what today was all about,” Smothers says.
Every kid also got a US military patch for their uniforms, presented by American Legion representative Colonel Hines, as a recognition of their hard work thus far.
“This was not a graduation ceremony. This was a stepping off point,” Smothers says. “This is now, essentially, day one from here on out.”
Still, several family members attended the event to show support for their young kids.
“Very proud, very proud,” is how one mother, Lydia Lee, describes her feelings while watching her son receive his patch. “I saw him look more confident today than he has, so I feel like there is definitely some good character-building happening. Like he stood with his shoulders back – he stood with confidence, he answered with confidence, and I liked seeing that in him.”
Lee says her 14-year-old son hopes to eventually join the military, but never had a local ROTC program near their home in Hamilton. Once BVMP announced its intention to begin at Corvallis High School, they were excited to sign up.
Most of the cadets say they joined BVMP on their own decision, but even those who were persuaded by parents or friends, have ended up loving it.
“Honestly, I didn’t really want to do it, but my mom was like ‘it will be good for you.’ And after the first day, I thought it was, you know, it was okay. But after the next couple times, I started to really enjoy it,” Nelson, who hopes to one day join the Air Force, says.
“I absolutely love it. I enjoy every day that I come here,” Shavers, who was among the cadets promoted on Saturday, says.
The young adults also recognized the value of the structure, obedience and leadership skills they were getting from Smothers and the other veterans.
“It teaches me to respect not only myself, but as well as my community,” Shavers says. “And the Military has fought extremely hard for America itself.”
“There are a lot of kids who aren’t able to have that structure, and they’re a lot more disobedient to their parents, and I want to show them that you can have respect,” Briger Peterson, another BVMP cadet, says.
Smothers encourages kids to sign up anytime, and every cadet says they’d recommend the program to any of their peers.
Kids can sign up through the BVMP website.
The cadets will be at Fort Missoula on Saturday, May 20, for the Veterans Suicide Awareness and Prevention barbecue.