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Richards High School JROTC students inspired by admiral

U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Dee Mewbourne meets with students Navy JROTC program Richards High School Oak Lawn Wednesday December 12

U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Dee Mewbourne meets with students in the Navy JROTC program at Richards High School in Oak Lawn Wednesday, December 12, 2012. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: January 14, 2013 7:28AM



Rear Admiral Dee Mewbourne didn’t have any trouble getting the group of some 135 high schoolers to fall quiet when he walked into the cafeteria at Richards High School in Oak Lawn Wednesday afternoon.

Boys and girls stood at rapt attention in their neatly pressed uniforms and gleaming dress shoes.

Mewbourne, 51, national director for the Navy’s Junior ROTC program, briefly addressed the Richards JROTC group and then put them at ease as he casually worked the room, answering a range of questions about his 30 years in the Navy.

He took time to praise a Richards program that, in its fifth year, is one of the most successful in the Midwest.

Through the years, six students in the program have received ROTC scholarships for college, including four in the 2011-12 school year.

In the spring, Richards JROTC graduate Daphne Vargas will graduate from the Naval Academy en route to becoming a Marine Corps pilot.

It’s no wonder Mewbourne spoke highly of the JROTC program at the school, which had the honor of being the first he has visited since he assumed command of the Naval Service Training Command a few weeks ago.

He has worked “with a lot of crews, a lot of people” through his three decades with the Navy.

“If you got to see what I got to see, if you got to see these young Americans, so proud and doing their best each and every day, you’d know America is in great hands. And I got to see that here,” Mewbourne said.

He knows that not every student in Richards’ JROTC program will seek a career in the Navy or another branch of the armed forces, but he also knows the program teaches leadership skills they can use in other careers.

“The Navy does a good job of teaching us leadership,” he said, later adding that students are learning “interpersonal skills they need to do well in life.”

Mewbourne wanted to be in the Navy as early as fifth grade. After 17 years as a pilot, he “achieved my dream in my 40s,” by commanding an aircraft carrier -- “4-1/2 acres of sovereign US territory.” He’s commanded the oldest, USS Enterprise, and newest, USS Harry S. Truman.

“An aircraft carrier is very complex organization, but it’s more than that ... but I thought the Navy did a very good job of preparing me for that leadership position, and it all started for me as it did for you with a sense of discipline and leadership development,” Mewbourne said.

Afterward, seniors Randy Flaherty and Kylla Pate said they are glad they joined JROTC as freshmen.

Flaherty, who wants to be a Marine, found it “inspiring for a man who’s accomplished quite a bit so spend time with us.”

The JROTC program has brought focus lacking from his life, he said.

Pate tried several clubs her freshman year “and I didn’t fall in love with them. My friends were in (JROTC) and dragged me into it. It looked intimidating, but I fell in love with it. It’s not just a club. We’re like a family. And we all have a common goal to just be the best we can be,” she said.

Chief Petty Officer Dennis Reynolds (Ret.), who heads the JROTC program at Richards with Commander Doug Groters (Ret.), said students “are now our best recruiters.”

“We’re not going to reach all of them, but if you can make an impact on just one ... we hope something clicks down the road,” Reynolds said.



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