There's the saying that behind every man is a good woman. Well, a similar phrase could be said for the dozens of Junior ROTC students at both Minot High School campuses. Behind the military uniforms they don once a week is an exceptional man in retired Lt. Col. Michael Burt, whose mission is to teach them leadership and responsibility.
"I teach my kids leadership skills because I want them to be leaders in their chosen profession and I teach them responsibility so that they will be able to accomplish everything they set out to do," he said. "Those are vital skills they will need in life and they're things that can't be taught in regular classes."
Junior ROTC introduces high school students to the life and philosophy of Air Force service, which includes physical fitness tests and marching and drill competitions, but the courses also teach students life skills like time management, financial bookkeeping and public speaking among others.
Whitney Pandil-Eaton/MDN •
Lt.Col Michael Burt stands with some of his Junior ROTC Air Force cadets who volunteered this past weekend at the Domestic Violence Crisis Center’s “Love Without Fear” Walkathon. From left to right are Stephen Flanagan, Nathan Johnson, Todd Waswick, Matthew Wallace, Elysia Taniguchi and Burt.
At 48 students, the Junior ROTC program in Minot is a minnow among other programs across the country, but it has had impacts both big and small.
But those impacts almost never were.
"We had to fight to get this program going here. There were members of the (school) administration and community that didn't see the need for it. We have some great teachers in the district, but there were some that didn't like the program taking away from their electives and some school and community officials won't let their kids join," he said. "The last two years have been pretty good because I think people are starting to realize the benefits, but it's still a struggle to find even space to practice our drills."
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Despite the low numbers, in the eight years of the detachment's existence, Burt has helped four students enter the Air Force Academy, has commissioned two officers and currently has a student involved in the University of North Dakota Senior Air Force ROTC program. The program has also garnered more than $6 million in college scholarships.
The program is, by most student accounts, intense. And Burt agrees.
"We are in their life because my focus is their success," he said. "I make them live by my standards and the Air Force standards. Some kids and parents don't like that."
While earning high school and college credits through the elective classes, Junior ROTC students learn about aircraft history, different cultures and space travel but they also learn about the community around them.
As one of their six Air Force-directed objectives, the detachment was recently involved in a community service project.
On Saturday, the students helped one of their chosen charities, the Domestic Violence Crisis Center, with its ninth annual walkathon by stringing and hanging decorated t-shirts that recounted stories of local domestic violence victims.
"It can be an overwhelming experience because of what the organization represents, but we discuss the event in class the week before. We explain the markers, but they all know already. With the level of communication that goes on between these kids with text messages, cell phones and computers they know about it, but they don't know what to do or who can help," Burt said. "There are some parents who won't let their kids participate in this, but I think education would solve the problem. Unfortunately, most of the time it's not until the issue affects you that you do something."
The issue of domestic violence hit home for Burt in recent years as one of his cadets confided in him during the event that he was a victim.
"We walked around the track for several laps and he told me everything," he said. "It really opened my eyes and made me better understand some of his behavior issues. We talked to some officials and hopefully got him the help he needed."
Although most of his cadets never join the Air Force the attrition rate for the detachment is about 50 percent Burt said it is those little victories that keep him motivated.
"You get to know these kids outside the classroom and find out who they are and what their passions are," he said.
But for those who make it through four years with Burt, the rewards are great.
"These kids get hazed pretty bad in school for wearing the uniform one day a week, but I just tell them that college costs $100,000 a year and they can get a full ride while other students write checks to the bank," he said. "I've helped eight kids achieve their dreams. That's what it's all about."