Young women power IHS JROTC

Photo by Chris Sykes
From left, High School Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps Cadets Cpl. Nakiah Purdie, 15, Sgt. Saniyah West, 16, and Cpl. Mary Efizu display copies of the program for the Dr. Martin Luther King Commemorative Committee’s 33rd annual Legacy of a Dream Commemorative Tribute to the Life and Work of the slain Nobel Prize-winner on Saturday, Jan. 13, during the event. The cadets were volunteering at the annual event, as they do for most other major events in town.IRVINGTON, NJ — The future face of the U.S. armed forces was on full display on Saturday, Jan. 13, at the Dr. Martin Luther King Commemorative Committee’s 33rd annual Legacy of a Dream Commemorative Tribute to the Life and Work of the slain Nobel Prize-winner, thanks to the Irvington High School Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps.

Female JROTC cadets were at the entrance to the event in the Irvington High School Auditorium, dispensing programs and information to attendees and guiding them to available seats. This was in addition to their regular ceremonial duties, including acting as color guard.

“Gender is not an issue in the new U.S. armed forces of the Irvington High School JROTC,” said Major Munro, the senior Army instructor for the Irvington High School JROTC Crusader Battalion, on Saturday, Jan. 13. “It’s all about equal opportunity with no regard for race, gender, religion, or ethnicity. The only prerequisite is a desire to serve your school, your community, your country and yourself.”

Munro said the program teaches students how to channel a desire to do good into positive, life-affirming and skill-building activities.

“We worked with the fire department and the Red Cross to install smoke detectors in homes in Irvington,” said Munro. “It’s community service. It’s about making a difference. It’s about building leadership and teamwork and showing that when you work together anything is possible. That’s what we do — get the cadets to be involved to make a difference in their own community.”

In Irvington JROTC, Munro works with Sgt. 1st class Harvey Craig, who won the Teacher of the Year Award last year. Craig agreed that female students are integral to their school-based group.

“We’re the oldest program in the state of New Jersey, along with Lakewood; Lakewood High School and Irvington High School JROTC program started in 1984,” said Craig on Thursday, June 23, 2016, at the Irvington High School Commencement Ceremony, where 58 of his cadets graduated.

Members of the Irvington High School JROTC attended Mayor Tony Vauss’ fourth annual State of the Township Address on Friday, Feb. 23. The cadets also made their local TV debut on the township’s ITV show, which featured them in the “High School Heroes” program at Chancellor Avenue School.

“About 75 of them came to our school and toured 23 classrooms and it will be on TV sometime in March,” said Chancellor Avenue School Principal Dr. Winston Jackson on Tuesday, Feb. 13.

But the members of the Irvington High School JROTC said being at the forefront of their community is nothing new to them, and is something they enjoy.

“I like giving back to my community,” said Cadet Cpl. Mary Ifezu, 16, an IHS junior, on Tuesday, Feb. 13. “I just like helping people in general and I feel like this program gives us an opportunity to do things that we wouldn’t be able to do if we were maybe somewhere else. I joined my sophomore year and I kind of regret it. I wish I had my freshman year. My friends were part of it and convinced me to join and I just thought of trying something new. ”

She added, “Sometimes, I feel like it helps me a lot in like opening up as a person and discovering myself and also doing things that I never thought I was capable of doing.”

“I feel like this program gives people an opportunity to get involved just like you should get involved in the outside world to gain in experience and to also gain connections,” Ifezu said. “It also helped me build my public speaking skills.”

Cadet Cpl. Nakiah Purdie, 15, is a sophomore who said the best thing about the JROTC program is that it inspires her and other students. She said history is her favorite subject, because “I love to learn about the historical things that happened in the U.S.”

“JROTC inspires me. I love to help people. I love doing community service and everything,” Purdie said Tuesday, Feb. 13. “It inspires me that I can do better. It helps us with our skills and the definition of teamwork and leadership, and I love JROTC and Irvington High School.”

Cadet Sgt. Saniyah West, 16, said she aspires to be a psychologist and believes participating in the high school’s JROTC program will help her reach her education, career and life goals.

“I feel like it will help me because it shows what I can do in life,” said West on Tuesday, Feb. 13.