There’s one REALLY good thing to come out of Carson’s West Point controversy…

Last week, the media was ablaze with stories about Ben Carson’s claim that as a JROTC cadet, he was offered a place at West Point, all expenses paid. Well, I’m just glad his story brought attention to the JROTC, because it’s something that should be better known and more appreciated.

With all that’s happening reflecting a wrong direction for our country, it’s wonderful when there’s something that renews your faith for our future.

On Sunday I had the distinct pleasure to be the keynote speaker for the 2nd Annual JROTC Foundation dinner event at The Woodlands Resort and Conference Center.

JROTC stands for Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps, has been around since 1916, and is a leadership development program at the high school level. Retired senior officers and non-commissioned officers from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines continue their service to our nation — and especially our young people.

Here in Texas, according to their website, “the JROTC Foundation is a non-profit organization formed to help raise up our next generations of leaders by investing in underfunded high school JROTC programs in Houston area schools and throughout Texas.”

Houston is one of the largest cities in the United States and of course Texas is one of our largest states. Recently Houston Mayor Annise Parker tried to pass something called the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) – the so-called “bathroom ordinance.” It failed miserably and had a most unfortunate acronym when you consider the real heroes of our Republic. Perhaps Mayor Parker should take a look at the JROTC program here in her own backyard and support the effort to increase its effectiveness and reach.

When so many of our kids need positive role models and examples of honor, integrity, and character, now is the time to support this vital program. “JROTC is a successful program, dramatically developing students and making substantial contributions to the schools and communities that benefit greatly from its presence. It is funded partially by each military branch, local school districts and parent volunteers. Because of the recent recessions, government sequestrations and the financial woes of all school districts, budgets are being cut and now JROTC programs are getting little to none of the financial support that is needed to reach their goals or maintain their effectiveness.”

I can speak from experience and I did, recalling the challenge of my parents, Buck and Snooks West, for me to be the first officer in our family.

It started at Henry Grady High School in Atlanta Georgia. My Army JROTC program instructors were LTC Pagonis, MAJ Heredia, MSG Buchanan, and SFC McMichael — combat veterans and strong men who were the epitome of service, sacrifice, and commitment. They saw in me, a young kid from the inner city Old Fourth Ward, something I didn’t even know existed and provided an environment and opportunity for my leadership ability to grow and thrive.

So Sunday night in The Woodlands, we celebrated these future leaders, especially as we are about to remember the 240th birthday of the U.S Marine Corps and Veterans Day. And this morning I had the pleasure of addressing the Marine Corps JROTC Cadets of Woodlands-College Park High School.

These young men and women represent something that is a cut a above the rest of their peers. They display a level of discipline, respect, and character that need be replicated all across the country. It warms my heart knowing this program is raising the future leaders of our nation — not just military, but business, and civic leaders.

The cadets with whom I spoke are laser-focused on their goals and aspirations. A good many are eager to continue by achieving college ROTC scholarships and becoming military officers. Others are just proud of the difference their JROTC instructors have made in their lives to make them good citizens, instill confidence, and increase their self-esteem. Many young people look for a group to be a part of and when there’s nothing positive, will turn to something negative. The rise of gangs among our young people and the proliferation of drug use has to be of grave concern. However, instead of seeking out the colors of rival gangs — what if they were wearing the Army colors of black and gold, the Navy blue, the Air Force sky blue, or the Marine Corps scarlet and gold?

Instead of gang initiations they could be increasing their academic performance and competing in drill team events. Instead of going out and shooting at each other, they could be developing better marksmanship skills and competing for awards — and not everyone getting a trophy.

If you’re in the Houston area, consider supporting the JROTC Foundation. If you are here in Texas, consider expanding this program to your city and I’d be happy to come on over and have an evening dinner event. And if this is something that needs to grow nationally, then let’s contact Conrad Doss and make this a huge national movement.

This is about investing in our future leaders and realizing as Conrad says, “the health of our nation is based on the strength of its leadership.”

Thank you Dr. Carson and the mainstream media for putting JROTC in the headlines.

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