The first medal on Oak Hills High School's Junior ROTC's collective uniform is a doozy: In the program's first inspection by the Army, it's earned the highest possible grade.


Representatives from the Army's 8th Reserve Officers' Training Corps Brigade out of Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington visited the school's program on Feb. 22.


"Every three years is an inspection year," said First Sgt. Wayne "Skip" Howard, one of the two men who run the school's program.


The 8th brigade oversees Junior ROTC programs for the western United States.


"What they're looking for is that the program is being run properly, efficiently and by regulation," Howard said, "and that the cadets are running the operation as they should."


Although the program has a military tone to it, it transcends military life and careers, said First Sgt. Joseph Williams.


"We push education," Williams said. "It's not the military."


"We're not recruiters," Howard said. "We're success builders."


The program will serve as leadership training for junior Tyler Gentry, 17, who had considered a military career, but who will likely not be part of an ROTC squad in college.


"It teaches you leadership. It's not just about marching and stuff," said Gentry. "I kind of like the military and I thought that's how ROTC was."


The JROTC program offers the 138 OHHS students who participate a mix of discipline and challenge, according to the instructors.


"What attracts them is the adventure," Williams said. "Young kids like that kind of stuff."


"Students want to be challenged," Howard insisted. "Believe it or not, they don't want to go to class and be bored."


"I like that they're pushing us to go to college," said junior Peter Camba, 16, who wasn't really considering furthering his education before he joined the JROTC program. "I do plan on going into the military, too."


Part of the challenge is offering them escalating responsibility, to the point that students run portions of the program under the supervision of the adults.


"I kind of liked how the uniform looked and the discipline," Camba said. "I thought the discipline would help me keep good grades so I could get to college."


The one-day inspection of their program earned it being named an honor unit with distinction.


"All of the units we've been associated with in the past have been honor units with distinction," Howard said. "So we're proud for keeping the streak alive."


"We've got the best kids in school," Williams said.


"It was a lot better than I imagined," Camba said. "Even though it's strict ... it's a lot of fun. The first sergeants, you can tell they really care."


Beau Yarbrough may be reached at (760) 956-7108 or at beau@HesperiaStar.com. Follow us on Facebook at Facebook.com/Hesperia.Star.