HESPERIA • In the 11 years since the 9/11 attacks, more young people have entertained the idea of military careers — especially young women.
The teachers of the Air Force Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps program at Sultana High School have witnessed the rise in female participation acutely, noting their strengths when it comes to competing with their male counterparts in a system that has long been regarded as patriarchal.
"The girls are awesome, they are so dedicated. They really take charge," said Sgt. David Thomas, the JROTC teacher at Sultana High School. "They're quiet at first, but this program really gives them confidence."
Thomas says Sultana has one of the largest JROTC programs in Southern California, and has seen a huge increase in students wanting to join the program for a multitude of reasons. Many of them were preschoolers on 9/11, he said, but are able to remember what they were doing when they heard the news.
In the JROTC classes at Sultana, Lt. Col. Joe Hayslett, who co-teaches with Thomas, estimates that roughly 40 percent of their students are female, and share a similar passion for the military as their male classmates.
"Whenever I can, I'll always try to get one of the girls to lead, because they are usually one step up from the boys," Hayslett said.
Since 9/11, Thomas said, the steady increase of enlistees has led to tough competition, and he adds there is an 18-month waiting list for the Air Force.
"There's a large influx of people signing up, recruiting centers are packed," Thomas said, citing the weak economy. "There's not enough jobs out there."
Even though the number of females entering the JROTC program continues to grow, only 15 percent of active-duty personnel are women, according to the Department of Veteran's Affairs. The same study says almost 20 percent of women are in the reserve, possibly reflecting a better fit for women who still want to pursue family life and enjoy the benefits that a military career affords.
"The mindset that women don't do these types of things is gone," Hayslett said. "They work just as hard as the guys."
A 2011 Pew Research Center Study found that for women who joined the military after 9/11, 42 percent were motivated to do so thanks to tough economic times, compared with 25 percent of men.
Ciara Alexander, 13, is in Thomas' sixth-period JROTC class. Her mother, Edna Killion, says she couldn't be more pleased about the program and how it has helped her daughter grow.
"It's making her stronger," Killion said. "Kids can be so mean these days and this program really gives her confidence."
Ciara, who wants to become a nurse and join the service when she graduates, says the guidance from the teachers and the camaraderie she gets from her peers are like nothing she has experienced before.
"I don't know what we are doing right or wrong," Thomas said. "But whatever it is, we have such good involvement. These students are good, they're really good."