Cheney Free Press -

By Lee Hughes
Staff reporter 

Medical Lake JROTC program continues to excel

Cadets well on the way to passing last year's community service record


Last updated 10/18/2019 at 11:48am

MEDICAL LAKE - High school senior Brennan Hart's goal is to attend the United States Naval Academy and study nuclear engineering.

His parents are Air Force veterans.

"The think I'm trying to rebel," Hart deadpanned with a straight face.

Tall and erect, Hart carries himself with a self-disciplined bearing and no-nonsense demeanor that renders the idea of a personal rebellious streak seem laughable.

His bearing is unusual, according to Chief Master Sgt. Albert McGowan, aerospace science instructor at JROTC adviser at the high school.

"It's like he doesn't have a kid gene," McGowan said with a slight but unmistakable New York accent.

As cadet major, Hart serves as the Medical Lake Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps drill commander.

Hart said he's always had an interest in the military - his father is a retired Air Force colonel and his mom was a captain - and was initially attracted to the JROTC class's structure. He's been in the program since his freshman year.

Of the 59 cadets enrolled in the WA–081st Air Force JROTC program at Medical Lake, 22 show up for a zero hour class to practice competition rifle drill, commanded by Hart.

And five times during the academic year the team competes against other JROTC programs in the Cascade League that includes schools in Washington and Oregon, according to McGowan.

There are different competitions including armed drill, duals where two cadets perform choreographed, three-minute rifle routine involving tossing rifles between them, and a solo competition.

Medical Lake senior cadet Tech. Sgt. Calvin Lynds is the teams very dedicated solo man, according to McGowan. He even purchased his own rifle, and spins two at a time.

"He practices endlessly," McGowan said of Lynds. "He does amazing stuff. He's very talented and committed."

While the drill competition is important, the core of the program is community service.

Established by the National Defense Act of 1916, the JROTC program was expanded in 1964 requiring all branches of the U.S. military to support a program intended to instill "values of citizenship, service to the United States, and personal responsibility and a sense of accomplishment," according to the official JROTC website.

Just don't call it a recruiting program.

"That is absolutely not the case," McGowan said, adding that he isn't allowed to be a recruiter for any branch of the military. "The number one reason for Junior ROTC is good citizenship. To teach them to be good citizens."

He noted that the lessons and skills cadets learn are equally transferrable to military, those attending college or in a civilian career path.

"The information is good for whatever you do," McGowan said.

Among all the skills and attributes cadets learn, the biggest emphasis is community service, and in that the WA–081st excels.

Asked if they regularly exceed the minimums for community service - and McGowan laughed.

"They exceed the maximum," he said.

In the last three years the team has finished in the top 5 percent for community service of all JROTC units - in the world - according to McGowan.

Of the over 900 JROTC units around the globe, 45 have achieved the Silver Star Community Service with Excellence Award. Twelve of them have done it three years in a row. Medical Lake is one of them, McGowan said.

The community service clock starts ticking in April. Last year Medical Lake logged 2,564 hours, and with over 1,500 hours of community service already completed this year, and being only halfway through the current cycle, they are on pace to finish in the 3,000-hour range this year.

"And they do all this stuff while they're going to school," McGowan said.

Silver Star Community Service with Excellence Award is the fourth highest award in the JROTC lexicon of awards. The first is if a life is saved at the risk of your own, McGowan said. The second is saving a life without personal risk, and the third is helping to rebuild after a major natural disaster.

Lee Hughes

Chief Master Sgt. Albert McGowan, aerospace science instructor at JROTC adviser, left, and Medical Lake High School senior Brennan Hart pose for a photo in the JROTC classroom on Monday, Oct. 14. Hart hopes to study nuclear engineering at the United States Naval Academy.

Hart notes that there are intangibles to community service, such as camaraderie and esprit de corps. They regularly work together on community projects like directing runners at the Spokane Marathon, or serving on an honor guard to salute veterans on their return from an Honor Flight, a non-profit program that transports war veterans to Washington D.C. to visit the nations war memorials.

Cadets are required by regulation to wear their Air Force-issued uniforms once per week, according to McGowan, a 30-year Air Force veteran.

He said he enjoyed working as an Air Force instructor in a classroom environment. But he mainly became involved in JROTC because of his own youthful escapades in Manhattan, where he lived in the inner city housing projects along the border with Spanish Harlem.

"When I was in high school I started getting around the wrong people, and I was kind of like a street kid," he said. "I felt like I have something to offer when I come and talk to these kids."

As for Hart, he isn't the type of person to wait for the chips to fall where they may. His Plan B if his bid for an academy appointment falls through is ROTC at one of five short-listed colleges that offer nuclear science.

Lee Hughes can be reached at


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