Last year marked the final year for the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) program in the West Fargo Public School district. The program has been around since 2006, but it will not exist after this year.
JROTC shuting down for multiple reasons, including a lack of student enrollment, a lack of funding and the relocation of Colonel Todd Huderle, who advises the group. Huderle had been a part of the West Fargo JROTC program since 2014. Col. Huderle has moved to work with the Devil’s Lake JROTC program after this year.
“I was offered the opportunity to continue doing what I love to do and that is teach and mentor young men and women who want to make a difference in the world,” Huderle said. “There are only three (soon to be two) Army JROTC programs in the state of North Dakota so I feel very fortunate that I am able to continue working with high school students in this state.”
Senior, now graduate, Austin Hanten was with the JROTC program every year of high school. He said he was almost heartbroken with the thought of the program shutting down. He wished the program could stay available forever to teach and help future students become better people and good citizens, but also understood why it had to shut down.
“We haven’t had the amount of kids participating in the program that the school and the Army usually require us to keep the program,” Hanten said. “So the school district decided it was not feasible to continue to fund a program which took up two classrooms, had two teachers and only had 67 kids whereas a normal program, like band or something, could have up to 100 or 200 or something.”
The WFPS district website described the class with this on the activities page: “The JROTC curriculum provides leadership education and training for students… JROTC helps students become better citizens and develops interpersonal skills critical in today’s workplace.”
The West Fargo JROTC program had to keep 10 percent of the students, or roughly 100 students, in the program every year. For the last three consecutive years the program has had 65 to 75 students in it, which is too few for the program to continue.
“The program made such a difference in my life, and I’ve seen the difference it’s made in some of the younger kids’ lives, honestly, I think we’ve done a pretty good job,” Hanten said. “I just think that it’s a little sad that future generations of students at West Fargo High School and Sheyenne High School won’t have that option.”
If the students want to continue on with their JROTC career, there will be an option to have the WFHS students and the Sheyenne High School students join Fargo South to participate in their JROTC program, similar to how the WFHS kids went to Sheyenne in years prior. The difference, however, will be that the West Fargo combined JROTC program was an Army program, where as the Fargo South program is an Air Force program. Also, bussing might not be an option, and the students might have to provide their own transportation.
Freshman, now sophomore, Jose Franssen had only been in the program for a year and held deep feelings for the program. He said he felt sad for the decision to shut the program down and hates that it has to. He said that he really wished that the program could stay.
“This program has taught me so much about how to be able to succeed in life, what true friends really are; Things I wouldn’t have ever known,” Franssen said. “This program has gotten me more friends and closer friends.I love this program so much. I would literally give up my whole future for other younger kids to do this program because it’s so beneficial.”
The JROTC program and its students had been involved in much at WFHS, from pep rallies to athletic events. It had been a place where its students can go and enjoy themselves while still learning useful skills to help them out in the future. Col. Huderle was, and still is, thankful for the district and the students, as the program had been very enjoyable and rewarding for him.
“I want to say that I spent 27 years in the army and four years teaching JROTC. The last four years have been the most enjoyable and rewarding in my career,” Huderle said. “I would like to thank both Dr. Fremstad and Dr. Cronin for giving me the opportunity to work in this district.”