Keystone Heights JROTC earns best color guard marks in school history

By Bruce Hope bruce@opcfla.com
Posted 2/24/21

KEYSTONE HEIGHTS – Ret. Army Lt. Col. Richard Hall served in the U.S. military for 33 years. Now he’s helping Keystone Heights’ Junior Reserve Officer’s Training Corps achieve their own …

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Keystone Heights JROTC earns best color guard marks in school history

Posted

KEYSTONE HEIGHTS – Ret. Army Lt. Col. Richard Hall served in the U.S. military for 33 years. Now he’s helping Keystone Heights’ Junior Reserve Officer’s Training Corps achieve their own milestones.

Under Hall’s direction, two sub-units finish with their highest scores in color guard competition in the school’s history.

“I am just super proud,” said Laurie Burke, Keystone Heights principal. “I mean, all that we’ve been through with the students and COVID [19] and not even knowing what kind of activities we were going to have, our students have done amazing in our JROTC program. They’re finally getting to participate in some of these fun things that they are here for and are in the program for.”

The girls’ color guard, consisting of eighth-grader Sylvia Hunter, freshman Trista Harrison, sophomore Hailey Lemmon, junior Elizabeth Anderson earned first place in their competition.

At the same event, the boys’ regulation armed squad, which also executing drill and ceremonies but with weapons, finished third. That unit was composed of seven boys: freshman Hayden Sargable, sophomore Brian Rutkowski, juniors Nathan Baxter, Austin Laws, Ethan Brown and Owen Hunter and seniors Colton Shealy and Nicolas Rodriguez.

Under Hall’s and his Army Instructor Sergeant First Class Todd Blatchford’s leadership, the school’s JROTC is thriving. It is one of five schools involved in the pilot program, allowing eight graders to be involved in the program.

The school’s unit is led on the cadet level by Lt. Col. Patricia Woodell, cadet Battalion Commander, Maj. Jacob Lemmon, cadet Batallion Executive Officer and Command Sgt. Maj. Luke Qualls.

Blatchford spent a great deal of time training the cadets for the drill competition.

“The fact that we have never won a trophy was their driving force,” he said. “They wanted to be the first ones to actually bring home a trophy for our school.”

Overall, this is a special unit. Very three years, there is what is called a JROTC Program Accreditation, an inspection of the entire program conducted by U.S. Army Cadet Command. They were evaluated on multiple categories, including drill and ceremonies, a continuous improvement project, color guard, Cadet portfolios and a service-learning project. The battalion received an overall score of 98.5 out of 100. That score earned the program a designation of an honored unit with distinction.

“I’m just thrilled for them,” said Burke. “They’ve represented our school very well, and I’m proud to have them on our campus. I look forward to more things to come.”

Hall spent many of his years in the Army with the Special Forces, earning a spot in the coveted and respected Green Beret. He spent most of his adult life training and training others. It’s only natural now that he continues to give back to his country and his community by being involved with his local high school’s JROTC program. He helps to create better youth, all while bolstering the ranks of our the nation’s military

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