Mustang’s eight year-old JROTC program is nationally recognized with more than 190 awards and is ranked in the top 10 percent in the United States.
Major Stephen Muehlberg, Senior Army Instructor of Mustang High School JROTC, said the number of students in the program continues to gradually rise since he helped start the program.
"We had about 120 kids in our very first year. Now we have around 200," Muehlberg said. "It seems to grow a little every year."
To accommodate this growth, Muehlberg, along with the Mustang School District, is hoping voters will approve a $4.8 million bond issue on Tuesday, Nov. 12. If approved, $1.4 million of the bond issue would be appropriated towards a new, free-standing JROTC center.
"Right now, our JROTC capacity is 220 kids and this would increase that capacity to 300," said Superintendent Sean McDaniel at a September school board meeting.
Mayor Muehlberg said despite recent remodeling at the high school, his students still have class in the older portion of the building, where the school’s first cafeteria was.
"I think everyone realizes that we need more than what we got," Muehlberg said. "In the past, the kids have just taken everything in stride. There isn’t a program that we go out and compete against that doesn’t have better facilities than we do. But we really just took that as a badge of honor, or a chip on our shoulders, and went out and still competed at the highest level."
Although most people see the JROTC color guard at sporting events or marching in parades, there are many other activities they perform behind the scenes.
Students take part in an aerospace program, drill camps over the summer to teach incoming freshman how to march, compete in marksmanship teams and attend wildlife refuge trips for land navigation exercises along with many other activities.
"We do a lot of things in the background that many people don’t see," Muehlberg said. "We help send off teams to big sporting events, work as ushers at open houses and we even conduct blood drives."
One of the purposes behind JROTC is to help students apply what they’ve learned in other classrooms and to apply them in real-world situations.
"Instead of having to solve a math problem, they have to solve a real-world problem, so we try to teach them thinking skills, rather than answering a question on a test," Muehlberg said
Over the years, the program has put together a very impressive trophy collection.
"In the first year of the program we didn’t do much competition because we were real young," Muehlberg said. "Now, we go all over for drill and color guard competitions, some in Wichita and some in Texas."
One of the big misconceptions about JROTC is that it recruits young men and women for the military, Muehlberg said.
"We are not here to recruit people for the military, in fact I won’t allow a recruiter in my classroom," he said. "We use the military framework because it’s just there and is something we can use. We use the uniforms because it teaches attention to detail."
Mustang’s JROTC program is only 1 of about 20 total programs in the state. There are 1,745 secondary schools in the country with JROTC units.
Muehlberg said Karl Springer, who was Superintendent at the time and who also had a military background, desired to have a JROTC program in Mustang eight years ago.
"Oklahoma is very under-represented for programs," he said. "This is a cost-share program, the Department of Defense pays for the uniforms, technology in the classrooms and textbooks. The district pays only for facilities, computer connections, phone connections, heat, air and the lights."
The Mustang unit currently practices in the old high school gymnasium, which is used as a storage building for miscellaneous items.
Under the first of two propositions for the upcoming bond election on Nov. 12, voters in the school district will be asked to vote for a new JROTC center dedicated to the program. The proposition will also ask voters to approve an expansion of the current FFA/Agriculture Education Barn, a new indoor baseball practice facility, technology upgrades, elementary playground equipment and a second proposition for new buses.
Muehlberg said he believes JROTC helps students prepare for their futures.
"In this program, our kids take away things that I call ‘life skills,’" he said. "I call them things that I was taught in high school that people don’t teach anymore. Things like how to dress, how to prepare yourself for a job interview. We teach them first aid, we teach them about nutrition, how to solve real-world problems and how to work with others. This helps them become leaders and teaches them responsibility and self-confidence."
The program has helped students in the past receive impressive scholarships.
"In most JROTC programs it is a big deal if just one kids gets a program scholarship," Muehlberg said.
"We have four or five kids that receive one a year. After the kids go out and do all of these things, they figure out that they can take on the world and do anything they want, and they should be able to because we have given them the tools to do that. Our motto is, ‘To motivate young people to be better citizens.’"