For the last two years, Sgt. Steve Harris has been working to help the students of Tooele County get ready for life after high school, particularly when it comes to military service. He teaches a military-inspired course he calls the JLTC, or Junior Leaders Training Course, at both Grantsville and Stansbury high schools.
The course is not a Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, or JROTC, program. Harris said because an official JROTC program requires a multi-year approval process, at least 150 enrolled students and a cost of $200,000 to $300,000 a year, the program wouldn’t be cost effective for Tooele County students. That’s why Harris’ program, though similar to a traditional JROTC program, is unique.
“I’m an old Marine and I taught ROTC at the University of Missouri, so when I heard from the principals through the grapevine that they wanted a program like JROTC, I said I’d do it,” Harris said. “I volunteer to teach it. I’m in the Army National Guard and my first mission is to serve the community, its citizens and the state.”
Harris, who also works as the Army National Guard recruiter for Tooele County, set up the entire military-inspired program at both high schools.
“I set up my curriculum and they issued me a teacher’s license,” he said. “I operate under the state Department of Education under the ROTC-STAR. I train these kids on what real military life is, as best as I can for high school students.”
At GHS, Harris teaches one class with 20 students, and at SHS, he teaches two classes, the first with 28 students and the second with 21 students. Students are able to take the course as an elective.
“It’s definitely gaining popularity as it catches on, especially because I’m not just teaching the same class year after year,” Harris said. “Returning cadets teach the class too, and they’re learning how to schedule, structure, manage and train the class. They’re doggone motivated this year too.”
Students in the course are required to wear uniforms and participate in various activities such as leadership drills, recruit sustainment programs, ruck marches and overnight campouts. The program is also structured to have a commander, first sergeant, squad leaders and other positions. Harris begins each class with the Pledge of Allegiance, followed by reciting the Army values and saying the Soldier’s Creed. Cadets also have an assignment every month to write down what each Army value means to them and must work on that value for the entire month.
“We apply what we learn in the classroom,” Harris said. “Sometimes we’ll spend the weekend in the barracks at the Tooele Armory so they can get a taste of what it’s like to be in the barracks.”
In addition to class time and outside activities, the students also participate in several service-oriented projects. At SHS, the cadets raise and lower the flag every day, and at GHS, the cadets teach enrichment classes to eighth graders at Grantsville Junior High.
“They march in Fourth of July parades, put on the climbing wall at community events, help out at Camp Wapiti, and do Shop with a Solider each year with the [Fraternal Order of] Eagles,” Harris said. “They are very much community service oriented.”
The students also learn a lot about military subjects, such as drill, how to properly wear a uniform, and what the different roles and responsibilities are. Every Friday is a physical training day.
On Jan. 22, Harris held his annual Super Squad Competition, which ultimately honors the top group of cadets with the highest scores. Cadets are given merit based on who has the highest attendance, highest proficiency in military knowledge, drill, hand signals, general orders, grooming standards, proper uniform wear, chain of command and more. The top cadets will be honored in April during a military ball.
Harris said the response to the JLTC has been tremendous from fellow teachers and the public, mainly because the focus of the program is on team work, leadership and community service.
“There is a tremendous amount of leadership training that I teach,” Harris said. “The cadets have to perform to the Army values, which are loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage. Cadets don’t sit in their desks very much. They teach a lot of classes under my guidance, because they can’t learn how to lead if they don’t get up in front of the class.”
Harris said it’s been “very cool” watching the students grow and learn through the program.
“They’ve learned to not be so afraid,” he said. “They make mistakes, correct it and move on. This course gives them a huge jump for military life, and a lot of them are intending on doing that. A few get into it and want to drop the class, but that’s what’s important to me. The course gives them a taste of what it’s like so they can make informed decisions about their life and if the military is a good fit for them.”
Harris said he doesn’t push his students to join any specific branch of military, or to join the military at all, but he does challenge them to figure out what is going to be the best life path for them.
“The little skinny guys are just not going to be Marine Corps snipers,” he said.
Students who don’t want to join the military, but still want to take the course are welcome, Harris said.
“My battalion commander was going to join the military and now she’s not going to, but she has seen at her work how the same principles work there,” he said. “She has been promoted at work because of the leadership she’s learned. Students can do tremendously well on the civilian side, because really, all current businesses are structured after the military model.”
Overall, Harris said the program is important for Tooele County students because it gives them a chance to explore the military life before they join.
“I believe it’s very important they get a taste of what the military is before they are snookered by some recruiter about fame and glory,” he said. “When I was in the Marines, some guys came in and got angry and frustrated because it wasn’t what they thought it was. That makes life hard on their unit.”
Harris said the course also helps students to learn a lot about themselves and how to have respect for their parents, teachers and the law.
“These kids will start out just standing there hardly moving, but if you give them a few months, they are out there barking orders,” Harris said. “It’s fascinating to watch them change and become better citizens.”