JROTC cadets from across the state gathered at Howard Payne University this week for two simultaneous Air Force Summer Leadership Schools that meet every June at the Brownwood Baptist college.   

The camps were attended by ninth- through 12th-graders from more than 30 Texas high schools and one Oklahoma school. About 550 JROTC cadets, Cadet Training Officers and instructors ate, slept and drilled at the university.   

Maj. Christopher Carney of San Angelo’s Central High School and Col. Steven Shinkle of Abilene’s Cooper High School led the junior and senior camps, respectively, during Leadership School. Carney’s campers were rising high school freshmen and sophomores, while Shinkle’s were juniors and seniors. As cadets filed out of the Mabee University Center on Thursday morning, the retired airmen described the benefits of JROTC.   

“Our goal is to create better citizens,” Carney said. “After-school programs will vary by unit, but ours does seven drill meets a year.”   

“A drill meet,” Shinkle explained, “is a marching competition. Some units also have [physical training] competitions or academic competitions, so they’re all a little bit different.”   

All units, however, have basic unarmed and armed marching and a color guard. “We get called to do a lot of events,” Shinkle said. “Not just on our campuses, but we are active in our communities in presenting the colors. In Abilene, we do stuff for the mayor and city council and various social events like pep rallies, football and baseball games.”   

JROTC, the leaders emphasized, is a purely voluntary extracurricular program with no service requirement attached. “I actually encourage my kids to go to college instead,” Carney said.   

At Summer Leadership School, a typical day begins with an early morning and physical training. Then, the men said, the cadets’ uniforms are inspected with “military-style detail” before marching practice and academic sessions. “On our side, we’re very focused on management, leadership and communication,” Shinkle said.   

“It’s intense,” Carney said. “From day one to when they leave, it’s intense all week.”   

He said the camp provides many opportunities for peer-to-peer leadership, and that college ROTC students volunteer as Cadet Training Officers for the week. “These young folks are going to be military officers serving our country, so it’s a great leadership opportunity for them,” Shinkle said.   

At the end of the week, outstanding cadets are awarded for achievement in academics and marching. There’s a special honor for the camp’s outstanding cadet, and another “service before self” award named for Carney’s predecessor and junior camp founder Col. Raul Lopez.    

Shinkle said both unit leaders look forward to Leadership School all year long. He praised the Brownwood and Howard Payne communities for their warm welcomes and material support.   

“We have a passion for this,” Shinkle said. “We have a passion for our students and cadets, and we care about them becoming the best versions of themselves. They’re our future, and we have to do right by them.”