The United States Army recently saluted Red Bank High School by presenting Principal Elaine Harper and JROTC instructor Lt. Col. Hugh Enicks with the first H.E.R.O School Award of Excellence of 2017.
The local Army recruiting center started the award program in 2015 following the overwhelming community response to the July 16 terrorist attack that left four Marines and a Navy officer dead from a shootout. The quarterly award celebrates schools that work to ensure students have access to as many tools and opportunities post-graduation as possible, including offering them information about the benefits of a career in the military.
RBHS was selected out of 91 possible high schools in North Georgia and Southeast Tennessee for the award, which was presented by Capt. Peter Ahching, the Army's commander of the Chattanooga Company.
"Principal Harper provided access for our Army career recruits to work with [RBHS] teachers and directly with their students. We work with 90 percent of other high schools in the region, but we weren't able to get the same level of contact, nor did other high schools provide that access to the Army," Ahching said.
This year, such efforts are even more of a focus, he added. The Army is aiming to add 6,000 new recruits in 2017, and recently earmarked an additional $200 million in incentive and signing bonuses for new recruits. Ahching said this means between $20,000 to $40,000 as a bonus for new recruits this year, and schools like RBHS are helping to make students aware.
"Mrs. Harper has allowed close coordination with recruiting command," said Enicks. "And I've built a good relationship with recruiters in my program."
According to Harper, around one-third of RBHS students are in the JROTC program. While most JROTC students don't make the decision to join the armed forces after high school, the school strives to make all their options as clear as possible.
"Teachers can connect and bring [recruiters] into the classroom if it pertains to a lesson to talk about their career," Harper said. "They come in and talk to ROTC, too."
In addition, the school allows recruiters to set up tables in the cafeteria during lunch, which students can voluntarily visit if they want to learn more about the armed forces. The RBHS guidance department can also organize one-on-one meetings between students and recruiters if the student comes to a counselor with questions about career options in the military.
All of this has led to around a dozen students each year graduating bound for the armed forces.
"It's important for kids to have access to all different kinds of opportunities," said David Kindiger, a guidance counselor with the school. "Not to mention, a student might not want college right away, but if they join the military, you can gain experience and college credits in a field you're interested in."
Providing these opportunities for the student body has been a cornerstone of RBHS for years, Harper said. Despite only being in her first year as principal, she's been with the school for nearly a decade, and has seen that focus firsthand.
The school's broader focus on "beyond high school" led RBHS JROTC students to garner $859,000 worth of scholarships — state scholarships like HOPE, ROTC-specific scholarships and others — last year alone, she said.
Kindiger and Enicks said they see the fruits of their efforts all the time. Two of their former students graduated to military academies: one to West Point and the other to the Naval Academy, two of the most prestigious military academies in the country. Other graduates return to Red Bank after a year at basic training to talk to current students about what it's like.
Enicks said that for some students, the Army, Marines or any other branch of the armed forces can provide the structure and stability they need, and he's glad the school can help them find it.
"The change in them is night and day," he said.