VINTON–Major John Napier has assumed his duties as the new Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) instructor at William Byrd High School.
He was one of several applicants for the position which was advertised nationally by the Air Force. Napier was interviewed by Dr. Richard Turner, principal at WBHS, who thought he would be a good fit for the program.
“Major Napier was vetted for the job by the Air Force and the school system, and came highly recommended,” said Dr. Turner.
Napier in turn was impressed by the reputation of the JROTC unit at WBHS. He had enjoyed working with high school age students in coaching volleyball and wanted to work with the JROTC after his retirement from the military.
Napier was interested in moving back east closer to his family, who are spread out from Ohio to North Carolina. He was somewhat familiar with the Roanoke Valley since his family passed through the area traveling on family vacations to the beach at Cape Hatteras.
As an outdoorsman and motorcycle enthusiast, he was also delighted to relocate to an area with easy access to the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Originally from the Akron, Ohio area which is notorious for lake effect snows coming off of Lake Erie, and more recently living in northern Arizona where the annual snowfall averages 110 inches, Napier is looking forward to the “milder winters” of southwest Virginia.
Napier retired from the Air Force in December 2012, and accepted the JROTC position at WBHS, which had become vacant upon the death of Major Jeffrey Pruitt in October.
“Major Pruitt left a great legacy, which I hope to uphold,” said Napier. “Our students talk about him all the time and miss him. He set lofty goals for the students in teaching them integrity and the Core values of the Air Force.”
Napier was not a high school JROTC student himself. He enlisted in the Air Force right out of high school, influenced by his older brother.
“My brother was in the Air Force and traveling the world,” said Napier. “That’s what I wanted to do, plus we shared a love for airplanes.”
Napier was stationed in Japan and at Williams Air Force Base in Arizona, as an aircraft mechanic during his three and a half years of enlistment. He went into the Reserves afterwards, and eventually spent 22 years with the Air Force, eleven on active duty and eleven in the Reserves.
He completed his undergraduate and graduate degrees at the University of Akron and then accepted a job as an ROTC instructor at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, Arizona, where he also coached women’s college volleyball.
Napier, a commissioned officer, is assisted in Byrd’s JROTC program by Senior Master Sergeant Paul Richardson, a non-commissioned officer (NCO), who started the JROTC program at WBHS during the 2006-07 school year. Richardson, originally from Pennsylvania, was an Air Force recruiter stationed in the Roanoke Valley for several years.
“I knew when I retired from the Air Force that I was coming back to the area,” said Richardson.
“SMS Richardson has been a steadying influence for the students during this difficult year,” said Napier.
As JROTC instructors, the requirements are different for commissioned and non-commissioned officers. Napier was required to have a Master’s degree for his position and to have attained the rank of Major.
The JROTC program at WBHS is partially funded by the Air Force, who pay half of the salaries of the instructors. When the program was begun at WBHS, the Air Force contributed $200,000 in materials and supplies towards the initial costs.
The JROTC program at WBHS has almost 100 students in the program this year, which is the magic number for keeping the program up and running. The high school has worked to expand the program and has accomplished that by accepting students from other County high schools. Those students must provide their own transportation to WBHS, but they are allowed to take other Core classes at the school also if they desire. Most choose to take the JROTC elective either first or last period and remain at their home schools for their other classes.
Students can begin participating in JROTC activities afterschool in extracurricular activities once a week while they are still in middle school as “future cadets”, learning to spin rifles, train for the color guard, and take part in physical fitness activities.
Once they are freshmen, students sign up for a year-long one credit elective course in JROTC. They study leadership skills and aerospace science. Cadets identify the qualities of leadership by studying leaders of the past such as aviation pioneer General “Hap” Arnold, test pilot Major General Chuck Yeagar, and World War I fighting ace Captain Eddie Rickenbacker, in a curriculum designed by the Air Force. As they continue through the program, students learn the science of flying and rocketry.
Each year in the program from ninth through twelfth grades, the curriculum becomes more advanced. As students progress through the curriculum, Major Napier and SMS Richardson assume more the role of advisors, as students increasingly take command and put theories into action, in essence running the unit.
“They advance in rank depending upon their time in the program,” said Napier. “There’s a small group of seniors and juniors that run the program, and they have a chain of command. There’s one student with the highest rank and he’s in charge of the whole cadet unit.”
Some students enter the program with an interest in enlisting in a branch of the Armed Forces after high school or in joining an ROTC program in college, but many join for the structure and camaraderie of the program. Many students also see the resume-building potential of belonging to the JROTC, and also the scholarship possibilities.
Airman First Class Annica Hardman came from a private school to join Byrd’s JROTC.
“I joined for the discipline, structure, and competition of the program,” said Hardman. “I also got hired for my first job because I was in the JROTC program.”
The JROTC at William Byrd has no typical student. Their students represent a cross-section of the school and all demographic groups, and contrary to public perception, the JROTC is not meant to be a recruitment arm of the military.
“Our goal is to build good citizens and leaders,” said SMS Richardson. “We have no recruitment goal set by the Air Force, although our students are our best recruiters for the JROTC program itself, influencing their peers to sign up. Hopefully what they learn in here will carry on into whatever career they choose.”
In addition to the basic four years of electives, students can also sign up for extra JROTC classes such as drill and color guard. Byrd’s JROTC unit is well-known throughout the community and surrounding area for their participation and leadership in many local events, such as the Dogwood, Veteran’s Day, and Christmas parades, and for forming the color guard for ceremonies from Flag Day to the 4th of July to Memorial Day celebrations and the Vinton Relay for Life.