School Committee Learns About Bedford’s Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps

Bedford’s Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Traning Corps presented the colors at Friday’s Military Family Night ceremony ~ Image (c) Bree Hester, 2021 all rights reserved

There are 833 Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) programs at high schools throughout the U.S.

There are only 13 older than the one launched at Bedford High School in 1979.

Members of the School Committee learned about Junior ROTC at their virtual meeting Tuesday evening. Presenting were the two ROTC teachers, both retired Air Force veterans: Lt. Col. Ken Mierz and Master Sgt. Charlie Humphrey. They noted that at an actual meeting, a student group would demonstrate a precision drill.

Mierz emphasized that in high school, ROTC’s “mission and objective is a citizenship program. It not a recruiting program or an ascension program.” He said it is financed by the Air Force “to instill citizenship and a sense of responsibility.”

In his fourth year at Bedford, Mierz said he was a space operations officer during his 25 years in the Air Force. “Anything you could do with satellites I did.” Humphrey, who grew up in Chelmsford, said he spent 24 years in the Air Force, half in law enforcement and the remainder in military instruction. This is his seventh year at BHS.

Only Lowell High’s Air Force Junior ROTC is older than Bedford’s in the Bay State, where there are nine, Mierz said. He added that all of the other military branches, including the new Space Force, also sponsor high school ROTC programs.

There are 30 students participating who live in Bedford 24 who reside at Hanscom Air Force Base, and two from Boston. Mierz noted that there is also a 24-student cohort in the program from Billerica Memorial High School, which has been part of Bedford ROTC for several years and is not financed by Bedford. Each school has a separate squadron.

The teachers explained that there are three parts to the curriculum: an academic component, leadership development, and drill and ceremony, scheduled over a six-day cycle.

Mierz said in the classroom, aerospace science focuses on a specific topic in a four-year sequence, freshman through senior: space operations, history of flight, aerodynamics (“everything you want to know about how a plane works”), and geopolitical studies and cultural awareness – “current events in each part of the world and how they got there.”

Humphrey explained that leadership development entails everything from ethical and moral concepts and social skills to time management and first aid, as well as care of the uniform. Participants also learn about building financial stability and a positive credit history, as well as writing s college application essay ad resume and navigating a college application interview, he added.

He continued, saying drill and ceremony teach discipline and self-confidence. The physical training component exempts ROTC students from regular physical education classes, although students in ROTC still are required to attend classes in health with the rest of the student body. The sessions in drill and physical training can teach how to deal with stress. Humphrey said.

“A lot of community service goes on with our program,” Mierz said. Hundreds of hours are ceremonial, with color guards and sabre teams presenting at a variety of public events. Members of the national Kitty Hawk honor society do some tutoring, he said, and the drill team is considered a varsity sport.

Teams of four to six students visit eighth-graders in Bedford and Billerica to educate them about Junior ROTC, Humphrey said. This recruitment role also provides opportunities to learn public speaking, he observed.

“It’s a cadet-run program. We want them to take ownership,” said Humphrey. “Every student is given a leadership role and responsibility. “

“We have a lot of students whose family members are deployed, and we understand that and provide an opportunity for kids to talk about it,” Humphrey said. “The students are welcome to discuss separation if they need to.”

An Air Force accreditation inspection of the program, required once every three years, is scheduled for Nov 3, Humphrey said. Increased physical space for the program since the last inspection should ensure a high grade, he added.

Mike Rosenberg can be reached at mike@thebedfordcitizen.org, or 781-983-1763


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