MASTER SERGEANT Joe Henderson is proud of his outfit, the 801st Junior Rear Officer Training Corps at Minuteman Technical High School in Lexington. "They get some grand opportunities--why, some of them last week got to go up in a C-135 and refuel jets. Mr. Hicks, you got to go up, didn't you."
"Yes sir--it was pretty cold up there."
"And what about you, Cadet Johnson?"
"Yeah, I mean, yes sir. It was real fun. One kid barfed on the colonel's coat."
"They're not supposed to barf," Henderson says.
SOMETIMES high school kids throw up, so they're excluded from the regular military. But the armed forces never turn away a soul--as part of their outreach, they sponsor JROTC. A recruiting poster explains the concept succinctly. For a few hours every other week in "aerospace education" and "leadership laboratory," students 14 years of age and older earn the following benefits: "Military Ball... Bowling League... Films... Annual Squadron Picnic... Basketball... Color Guard."
And so they come in droves. "We expected 65, maybe 70. We got 160," Henderson says, adding, "We ran out of uniforms, we ran out of books, we ran out of advancement pins."
Colonel Thomas M. Phillips, who heads the program, is even more excited by the fast growth. "In just a few short weeks, Minuteman Tech met and surpassed all viability criteria, and the future of the program seems assured," he wrote in a school newsletter.
Large numbers may win the next land war in Europe, but they will plague Henderson, at least for a few weeks. "It will take me quite a while to learn all your names," he admits at the opening session of leadership lab, his specialty. "There's only one of me, so it shouldn't take you as long to learn my name," he adds.
Like all lecturers, he uses his first-day speech to cover his grand designs for the course. "What do you think leadership is?" he asks the class. One answer, a little timid: "Does it mean when someone can make other people do something they don't want to?" Henderson looks around the room, unsatisfied. Another reply, this time more confident: "It means having the respect of others and influence over them," a red-headed boy says. But Henderson just pauses, stares at his desk, glances at the class, and then says, "Class, leadership really boils down to the golden rule."
Though he doesn't define his terms, it emerges that the golden rule excludes bullies and encourages integrity, honesty and responsibility. "I hope you won't be coming in here with the answers on your cuffs," he says, though he adds quickly, "I don't think we'll be having any tests."
The subject broached, Henderson goes on to explain his grading philosophy. Leadership "is not only part of your training, it's also part of your mark," he explains. "You spend two days a week in leadership, and three days in flight science. So two-fifths of your grade will be in leadership. That's roughly 40 per cent, but I only deal in ballpark figures, 'cause in leadership we've got to be flexible."
INTEGRITY, responsibility, honesty--those sound a little hard to grade. Fortunately, there are objective criteria. "Appearance, now appearance counts quite a bit, the number of times you wear your uniform and all," Henderson explains. The U.S. government provides the uniforms free of charge, small, baggy replicas of real Air Force clothes. More importantly, they provide decorations. At the front of the class, all the pins and badges--right up to four-star general--are glued on a piece of cardboard.
"All the kids get this one here," Henderson says, pointing to a miniscule emblem in the corner. "And some of them get this one, and a few this one here," he says, pointing to slightly gaudier decorations. "Can I get this one?" a kid asks, pointing at the four stars. "Maybe, if you sign up when you get out of school," Henderson says. Officers--squadron leaders and others--are chosen from among the students; at the end of each class, several volunteers come up to say they wouldn't mind the responsibility.
Snappy dressing counts, true, but it isn't enough. To excel requires proficiency in what Henderson calls "your military courtesies:" Courtesy here means avoiding first names; "in class, you can call each other cadets or Mr. Smith and Miss Jones." Unfortunately, there is a Mr. Jones in this class, so the explanation provokes some giggles. "You may address yourself by your cadet rank--Cadet Lieutenant Smith, Cadet Jones," Henderson adds.
"Now, I understand some of us have never used the word 'sir' in our lives," he continues. "In some parts of the country, it's quite a tradition. In the southern areas especially, you're brought up with it. When I was at Lackland AFB, it was always the guys from New York and Boston who had the most trouble learning to say 'sir.' But we must try--an important part of our training is the utilization of the terms, 'Yes sir' and 'No sir,'" he says, adding that even for those cadets who choose college or civilian employment instead of the wild blue yonder, the training would be worthwhile. "Don't think it's not impressive to the interviewer when you're saying 'yes sir,' 'no sir,' instead of 'yeah, right man,'" he says.
"Sir," a girl in the back row interjects, "the simulator is ticking. I think it's going to blow up." Indeed, the simulator, a black screen with handles and dials that looked closely related to vanguard "amusement devices" is ticking, and it does sound a little ominous. But Henderson didn't say anything, just stared, until he was saved by the main office, which called to remind him to send in the attendance. So the girl stood up and smacked the simulator hard, and the ticking stopped.
THE FINAL LESSON in military custom focused on the salute. "The upper arm should be parallel with the ground, and the forearms should be rigid--put those forearms in a wooden splint," Henderson says. "If you use your left hand, you may stick out," he adds. The pointers may come in handy someday--Henderson says he hopes many of the cadets will go on to Air Force careers. If they do, they'll be able to skip basic training. "You'll be going in with two stripes on your shoulder," Henderson tells them. "When I was at Lackland, a man with one stripe was a king."
The class seems more interested in the possibility of avoiding boot camp. "My brother was in the Navy, and he said that when he was in basic training three guys died, it was so hard. He said one guy couldn't do enough push-ups, and they kicked him in the stomach and he died." Henderson thinks for a second, then says, "I never saw anyone die. Could be, though, it's pretty rough."
Uniforms, salutes and the diverse other courtesies will also help cadets if they decide to join the drill team. The class will drill on the athletic fields only occasionally--"you'll get less in one year than in a single day at basic training"--but there is the "strictly extracurricular" possibility of drill team. Or even color guard. "If you really enjoy it, you can learn to get out there and twirl those fancy rifles and all," he says.
The JROTC room is lined with posters, all the same size, all hung exactly two inches apart in a stripe around the wall. They feature two different scenes--the fighting airplane at sunset, and the fighting airplane against spectacular backdrop. You have your Stratofortress, and your B-1 against the desert, and your little needle-nosed fighters. One poster lists the words of the National Anthem, and another a moving poem by a retired Air Force officer. Books line one wall--"Black Fighting Men," "The Soviet War Machines" and dozens of out-of-date volumes on UFOs and rockets to the moon. Rockets to the moon are a big selling point with the JROTC, whose posters pay less attention to the more usual applications of military aerospace technology. The instructors have small offices next to the classroom, and Colonel Phillips strides in and out showing his quarters to friends, his tinted sunglasses working overtime to redress the contrast between the sunny day and the gloomy fluorescence of the school.
Henderson dispatches his cadets to post signs around the building, and asks for volunteers to serve as ushers; the post will be officially "activated" in ceremonies this morning outside the school. Originally Rep. James Shannon (D-Mass.) had been scheduled to appear, and four AF-10 jets planned a flyover. But Shannon sends his regrets, and someone crosses out "AF-10 jets" on the press release, replacing it with "color guard." Mainly, there are brass, and from their appearance, tinted sunglasses are now as regulation as black shoes. They gather in small knots, discussing logistics, while the students trickle into the cafeteria seats behind them.
THESE ARE THE TIMES that try men's souls," Colonel Dale Ullrich, Northeast Recruiting Group Commander, begins, citing inflation and unemployment as proof of the national troubles. "Food and clothes cost more," he continues. "We are in a time of crisis and a year of great stress for our system of government." As if that isn't enough, Ullrich observes, "The moral fiber of many of our institutions seems to have deteriorated."
But there are bright streaks of dawn; "it is refreshing to see this program, to see Minuteman Tech providing more air force support than any other school in the metropolitan Boston area," he says. "You are taking part in a great citizenship program," he adds. To commemorate the patriotic tendencies of the youth assembled behind him, Ullrich awards Minuteman Tech principal Ron Fitzgerald a flag that was flown not only over the Capitol, but also over a southwestern Air Force Base, where it was in the "honored position" while a flyby of T-38s passed over.
Fitzgerald hands the flag to a team of four fliers from nearby Hanscom Air Force Base so they can raise it over the school while the band plays the national anthem. But with the brass looking on, they run into problems--the halyards are too thick for the grommets in the corners of the flag, and try as they will--and they try as they will for fully five minutes--the goddamn thing will not go up. Finally, a little desperately, Colonel Phillips goes up to help. At last, the flag goes up and the band begins to play, the students snap up their salutes, forearms in wooden splints. Henderson has done his job well--they all use their right hands.