ROTC cadet Sierra Butcher arrived at the Hector Garza Center for at-risk youths on Oct. 19 with nine other ROTC cadets. They met the students in the cafeteria and began their JROTC Day. Butcher kicked off the program by teaching the students how to sound off.
“We love to sound off in the army,” Butcher said. “We’re gonna practice sounding off so that we know you guys can actually communicate with us properly. Ready, one, two, three.”
The kids shouted at the top of their lungs and then all laughed and cheered along side their new mentors. Next they warmed up with preparation drills and then they broke up into smaller groups to work on the rest of the day’s curriculum.
Sierra Butcher, an MBA student, made it her mission to develop a leadership program to help mentor at-risk children attending school at the Hector Garza Center in north central San Antonio. The center provides a holistic approach to learning, which includes treating behavioral issues related to underlying trauma.
The center’s JROTC Day introduced 40 at-risk students to the ROTC life and lessons of a cadet. The goal was to positively influence the students with the hope that some may aspire to join an JROTC program once they leave the Hector Garza Center. Butcher said working with at-risk youths is important to her because of her own childhood experiences.
“Growing up in the environment that I grew up in, I was an at-risk child and the odds were against me for becoming something great,” Butcher said. “After I turned my life around, I always had a place in my heart to give back to those who are currently in the same position that I was in.”
Butcher moved from Wilmington, Delaware to San Antonio to join the UTSA ROTC Program. She said UTSA offers one of the best ROTC programs in the country and now that program has extended to Texas A&M University-San Antonio.
The ROTC program prepares college students to become commissioned Army Officers by giving them leadership skills and training. And one of the many benefits of the ROTC program which participants enjoy is tuition assistance for their college education.
In 2015, the A&M-San Antonio 5th ROTC Brigade received approval to become a detachment of the UTSA Roadrunner Battalion. The Jaguar detachment is a small part of the growing number of universities that belong to the 5th ROTC Brigade.
Butcher said they do all of their field training at the UTSA campus and their classwork is done at the Texas A&M-San Antonio campus.
Once she moved to San Antonio, she found work as a teacher with the Hector Garza Center. Butcher taught at the center for a year before she was offered a grant to return to school to complete her master’s degree. She made the decision to leave HCG, but has never forgotten the students.
“There is so much you can learn from the students, they teach you too,” Butcher said. “I’ll always have a passion for those kids.”
As a part of her training in the ROTC program, Bravo Company 2nd Platoon TAMUSA, UTSA’s Roadrunner Battalion and G Company 536th BSB Rear Camp Bullis, she is required to show her leadership abilities. Butcher developed the HGC JROTC Day as a way to showcase her leadership skills, and to give back to the school and kids that gave her so much, and who need so much in return.
“Some of the students that we will be training got in trouble with the law, some were abandoned, in foster care and do not even have a family or a support system upon leaving the facility when they complete their time,” Butcher said. “I came up with this event to motivate and encourage these students to turn their lives around and become a power for good in their communities, families and prayerfully in the army as an officer.”
School principal Asa Cuellar commented how remarkable it is to watch the students of HGC and how they respond to positive role models.
“It’s interesting to see that a lot of these kids that they, more so than in a traditional school, that a lot of them have an interest in the military or law enforcement,” Cuellar said.
During JROTC Day, kids learned how to do army crawls, troop leading procedures, officer ranks, names of army bases and army drill and ceremony (right face, left face, etc.) with the help of the other nine cadets who assisted Butcher: Cadet Jenkins, Cadet Vasquez, Cadet Quesada, Cadet Monte, Cadet Gonzales, Cadet Valle, Cadet Milliman, Cadet Medina and Cadet Montemayor.
The students learned about battle buddies and took turns dressing their buddies in army fatigues, then they had a chance to eat army field chow, MREs (Meals-Ready-to-Eat).
Once they completed their individual group work, Cadet Butcher assembled everyone together again for a bit of healthy competition to see who learned the most during their JROTC Day.
One by one the participants quickly threw their hands in the air to be the first to answer the questions and win for their teams. They were all anxious to show what they learned with their ROTC mentors.
Cuellar said the children come to the school for a variety of reasons and for different lengths of stay depending on how much they commit to working the program. Events like JROTC Day is just one of the ways students are rewarded for working the program, so this is a special day for these kids. And the goals of the school and events like this is to help the kids improve their lives, so Cuellar was grateful to Butcher and her team of cadets.
“They have to earn that privilege to be able to participate [in JROTC Day],” Cuellar said. “You see the ones who start working the program start to get better.”