Many students in the Beaufort County School District’s Junior ROTC programs dedicate countless hours to learning precision, discipline and marching skills for their drill teams.
But for two Whale Branch Early College High School cadets, their exemplary effort in those drills and other ROTC activities led them to a different kind of challenge — one that brought them in front of lights and cameras.
Maj. David Mitchell and 1st Sgt. Daja Smalls were recently selected to appear in a national television commercial celebrating the upcoming 100th anniversary of Junior ROTC worldwide.
“Being selected for this commercial was an honor for me,” said Mitchell, a senior who serves as commanding officer, the Marine Corps program’s highest rank. “Representing not only the Beaufort community but the entire Marine Corps JROTC community was the biggest and most rewarding thing.”
Smalls, who could not be reached for comment, and Mitchell were chosen from among hundreds of students across the country, according to Terry Wilfong, president of the College Options Foundation that organized the commercial. They joined four other cadets for the commercial, which was filmed in September, to demonstrate the strength and importance of the country’s second-largest student organization, he said.
The commercial has been circulating on social media for several weeks — with thousands of likes and views — and will begin appearing on television in January.
“The ultimate goal here is to spotlight what 100 years of citizenship, leadership and academic success means to America,” Wilfong said. “So we wanted to pick kids who not only showcase the program’s diversity, but showcases what leadership and strong academics looks like.”
Mitchell and Smalls perfectly fit that description, Whale Branch instructor Sgt. Maj. Dwayne Farr said.
Smalls, a junior, and Mitchell have been in the program since their freshman years. The two immediately came to mind when the school was asked to recommend cadets to be screened for the commercial, Farr said.
“What made them a great fit is their effort, energy and enthusiasm for the program,” he said. “The program hasn’t changed much. It’s amazing how we are still having the same impact on young people that we had more than 30 years ago when I was in high school in Army JROTC.”
The commercial is meant to not only celebrate the program’s birthday, but promote what organizers hope will be a worldwide 5K race that sets a world record for participation.
The Junior ROTC program will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2016, and it hopes to have 1 million people participate in the race that year. To gear up for that event, a 99th anniversary run is being scheduled for April, in which the foundation hopes to have 350,000 runners.
Roughly 1,000 Junior ROTC programs of all branches from across the country have already registered to join the spring run, Wilfong said.
Farr said he has spoken with the programs at the district’s other high schools and is working to organize a joint run for the county. The programs also are working with Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort and Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island to possibly hold the run at one of those locations, Mitchell said.
The next step is to speak to local community and government leaders to encourage students and families across the county to join the run, Farr said.
They don’t yet have a goal for how many local runners will participate, but Mitchell said it won’t take much for him to feel the experience was worth it.
“If only 100 people show up, that’s good enough for me,” he said. “To me, that shows that there is life in this community and that people care about and see the benefit of this program.”