By MARINA WATERS
Trophies and awards already line the walls and shelves of the JROTC department at Daniel Boone High School. But now, it’s time to make a little more room.
The school’s JROTC program just earned the Marine Corps Reserve Association Award given to the top school in the region. The award marks the school as one of the top five MCJROTC programs in the nation. This is the third consecutive year the Boone group has clinched the honor and is the sixth time since 2010 that the award has been taken back to Gray, Tennessee.
“Most of the other schools that are getting this kind of award are bigger, urban schools that are massively larger than us,” said Major Steven Sessis, the senior marine instructor at Daniel Boone. “So it’s kind of neat that out here in Northeast Tennessee, we are six-time winners of that award. It’s become a legacy now.”
The award is given to the school with the highest aggregate score in competitions, community service, and annual inspections from the MCRA. For Sessis and Michael Gardener, the school’s marine instructor, the award also supports the idea of building well-rounded young adults. That includes not only hitting the mark with their drill, marksman, orienteering, academic and physical fitness team competitions; it includes working within the community.
“We want everyone to know that there’s a group of kids out there who bust their tail to do the right thing,” Sessis said. “They’re not necessarily going to serve in the military — as a matter of fact, the vast majority of them do not — that doesn’t mean there are not things that they cannot learn in high school that will benefit them and the community long after they’ve left high school.”
For the two program members who have risen to the top of the ranks at Daniel Boone, JROTC has been an opportunity to work hard and gain experience in various areas.
Senior leaders Madalyn Darnell, who is the senior executive officer, and Samantha Miller, who is the senior commanding officer, have both been on almost each of the program’s five teams. Mostly, they said, being a part of the program has given them valuable skills and lasting life lessons.
“It offered me everything — something as basic as time-management skills to being able to lead a group of 100 people,” Darnell said. “We have opportunities as 17-year-old girls that some people don’t get in their 20, 30-year careers.”
Miller, who is also the captain of the marksman team, said her work in the program has opened her eyes to what she’s capable of and what all the program has offered her.
“When I came here I was very shy and to myself, but this program really opened me up to the things that not only I can do but what others can do,” Miller said. “I learned that I’m good at marksmanship and that I’m good at drill, it’s very easy to help the community, organization, responsibility — all the things you don’t usually get the opportunity to learn.
“Leading the program, it makes me feel empowered. I want to let all the others — not only females — have a chance at that kind of empowerment.”
While Miller plans to pursue a career in education and Darnell plans to pursue a career in constitutional law after high school, the two senior leaders are mostly looking forward to what will come before graduation, including the 30-40 JROTC competitions and events in places such as Washington D.C., South Carolina and Nashville.
In considering their senior year, the two best friends said they have work to do, an award they’re hoping to win one last time and a JROTC family they’re hoping to inspire and embrace before their time is up at Daniel Boone.
“If it wasn’t for JROTC, I don’t think I would have found a friendship like what Sam and I have,” Darnell said. “It always comes back to this is a family. This is the place where the kids who don’t necessarily fit into band or a sport, they can come here. There is something for everybody here. I think that in and of itself is a reward of the program. It’s a lot, but it’s a lot to be grateful for.”
Of all of the trophies adorning the walls of their favorite place on Daniel Boone High School’s campus, Darnell and Miller might be most proud of the legacy built and that is continuing on in Gray, Tennessee.
“There is a line from the musical Hamilton. It’s ‘Legacy, what is a legacy? It’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to see.’,” Darnell said. “To think about that and to think that what I do today is going to affect cadets tomorrow, next week, in two years, in five years, in the next century — it feels like there’s a lot on your shoulders.
“But as long as we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing and performing how we’re supposed to be performing, then the legacy that we leave, we’re setting it down and the next group of cadets are picking it up.”