IHS Class of 2018 graduation caps off busy year for JROTC

NEWARK, NJ — The Irvington High School Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps once again played a major role in the Class of 2018 graduation ceremony in the Essex County College Gym on Wednesday, June 20.

“JROTC graduated 41 cadets,” retired U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Harvey Craig said Tuesday, June 26. “I have six that will be serving in the Army, USMC and Air Force. We have two that received the Army ROTC Scholarship at the University of Pittsburgh, valued at $133,000, and one Navy ROTC Scholarship with Marine Corps option, valued at $180,000.”

Staff Sgt. Brent Mabry of the U.S. Marine Corps attended the IHS commencement ceremony to show his support.

“I came out here to support the Irvington graduates, but there’s a few that’s actually going into the Marine Corps, so I wanted to be here for them to show them my appreciation for them,” said Mabry on Wednesday, June 20. “I’m here. I recruit for them, but I’m out here mostly for support today. Today ain’t my day to go out there and recruit. It’s for them to get theirs and I’m here to witness it.”

Mabry said he understands how important graduating from high school is, especially for students from mostly minority urban areas such as Irvington.

“Right now, this is a stepping stone for them,” Mabry said. “They’re stepping away from their childhood and they’re stepping into adulthood … and this is one big step where they have to make that decision, which way they’re going to go. It is kind of shaky, but you know, you’ve got to take a chance.”

Craig said graduations are a time of beginnings and endings for the JROTC program at IHS. The next day he would be taking the remaining cadet underclassmen out for summer training.

“I’m at Fort Dix for Summer Camp in the woods,” Craig said.

The commencement ceremony marked the end of a busy year for the JROTC program and cadets that, once again, included their participation in almost every Irvington municipal event, from the Veterans Day and Memorial Day parades to Mayor Tony Vauss’ annual State of the Township Address and other events in the Irvington School District.

“They’re the greatest,” said Chancellor Avenue School Principal Winston Jackson on Tuesday, Feb. 13. “They did a program at our school called ‘High School Heroes.’ About 75 of them came to our school and toured 23 classrooms.”

The local JROTC cadets were also at the high school on Saturday, Jan. 13, for the Dr. Martin Luther King Commemorative Committee’s 33rd annual Legacy of a Dream Commemorative Tribute. They also participated in the township’s annual Cancer Walk.

Major Munro, the senior Army instructor for the IHS JROTC Crusader Battalion, said there’s a very simple reason why his troops are at every major social and civic event in town.

“This is what we do. If you look outside on the front of the high school, there are two banners hanging from the front of the school that are related to JROTC,” said Munro. “One is for our own Sgt. First Class Harvey Craig, who won the Teacher of the Year Award last year, and the other is for the Irvington High School Consumer Bowl Team, that is made up entirely of JROTC cadets. We have been the Essex County Champions, Northern Region Champions and the New Jersey State Champions in 2010, 2012, 2013 and 2014.”

According to Munro and Craig, the IHS JROTC program is currently the largest in New Jersey and it’s only growing.

“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 IHS commencement ceremony, where 58 of his cadets graduated, and he reiterated again this year on Tuesday, June 26.

“A lot of our young men and women are serving in the National Guard. A lot of them will be going this year. We’ve got some of them leaving the beginning of July, all the way up until September.”