Changing Lives One Cadet at a Time
by Kelly Merritt
It really is a great program. I just wish my high school had it at the time when I was young.”
Lieutenant Colonel Paul Garrah may not have had Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps ( JROTC) at his school, but he devotes his time to making sure Collier County students have the opportunity to participate in this program of excellence.
He works with Sergeant First Class Vince Phillips, Army Instructor, at Naples High School while Lieutenant Colonel Garrah is the Senior Army Instructor. Together the dynamic duo manages the program that helps students become their best selves, both academically, personally and professionally.
“JROTC is a regular high school elective class which means students don’t have to take it, however, many do because it offers them challenges, experiences, growth and fun unlike any other class in high school,” says Lieutenant Colonel Garrah of the leadership class. “The curriculum includes classes in leadership, citizenship, American history, briefing skills, personal finance, physical fitness, team building,
drill and ceremonies, values, career exploration and service learning.”
JROTC extracurricular clubs meet afterschool and on weekends. Cadets can participate in Drill Team, Rifle Team, Color Guard, Drum Corps, Raiders Team, Leadership Team and Academic Team. One of the most popular classes is Cyber Patriot, that teaches cyber security.
“The great thing about JROTC is there is something for everyone and we also volunteer at a wide variety of events and activities,” he says.
JROTC is brimming with success stories. Former cadet Djeunie Saint Louis is graduating from U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Ms. Saint Louis is one of Lieutenant Colonel Garrah’s former cadets from Golden Gate High School and a first generation American. He is attending the graduation and is giving her the commissioning oath in uniform.
“She will make a great military officer,” says Lieutenant Colonel Garrah, who also recalls another cadet whose life was changed by JROTC: Rebecca Dolce, a first generation American with family ties to Haiti. “She was 14 years old just beginning high school, didn’t know how to handle pressure and had some familial issues.”
Over the years Ms. Dolce also developed into a good leader and he selected her to be the Battalion Commander when she was a senior. Later, Lieutenant Colonel Garrah helped Ms. Dolce attain acceptance into the Naval Academy and she is now a Naval Officer serving on a Surface Warfare Ship.
“She went with us on one of our JROTC trips to Washington and had tears in her eyes when she saw the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and understood what those sacrifices meant of all of the names on the memorial,” he says. “It is very gratifying that I was able to attend Rebecca’s Naval Academy graduation this past May and I am proud of what these kids do for our community and our nation.”
Lieutenant Colonel Garrah is quick to share credit for successes like Ms. Dolce and Ms. Saint Louis with his staff and parents. “It really is a team effort with Sergeant Phillips, other adults and cadets and we have an active Booster Club of parents,” he says.
Kim Burns was the Booster Club president at Golden Gate High School when Lieutenant Colonel Garrah was based there. Burns continues to help with the program at Naples High School. He is appreciative of their support.
“My son graduated from Golden Gate High School in 2012 and when he came to GGHS in January his freshman year, the first thing that he wanted to check out was the JROTC program and meet the instructor,” she says. “David has always had a respect and appreciation for the military and he wanted to be a part of JROTC.”
Burns says before JROTC, David was a quiet kid, but being part of the cadets within school helped him to open up as a person.
“I asked David what JROTC did for him and he said JROTC taught him leadership and life skills, allowed him opportunities to show respect and appreciation to the military,” says Burns. “David has joined the Navy and will leave in March for boot camp.”
As a parent, Burns feels the JROTC program has had a positive impact on her son.
“He has become a wonderful young man that we love and are very proud of,” says Burns who along with fellow Booster Club parents supports JROTC cadets and instructors, providing food, transportation, chaperones, fundraising and just being there to cheer on the cadets. “It doesn’t matter what school your child attends – you are proud of all the cadets and you cheer for all of them to succeed in life.”
Lieutenant Colonel Garrah moved to Naples in 2004 after retiring from the army. He was hired for the JROTC program at Golden Gate High School and was there for nine years before moving over to Naples High School where he is in his second year of teaching JROTC there.
Lieutenant Colonel Garrah was the focus of Life in Naples Magazine Sandra Lee Buxton’s Winners Circle last month for the work he does with the JROTC.
“We have about 160 cadets in our program and 40 percent are females and our battalion commander is a female and doing a great job,” he says. “Approximately half of the cadets who stay in JROTC until they are seniors join the military after high school or eventually join.”
The leadership and team building skills JROTC students learn, help them in whatever they decide to do. Cadets can also earn ROTC or academy scholarships.
For more information, call 239.377.2226 or visit www.naplesjrotc.com.
This is Rebecca dolce and I am honored to have been featured in this article. Colonel Garrah has been an instrumental impact in my life and I can’t thank God enough for putting him in my life. I honestly wouldn’t be where I am without his support and care. He is like a father to me and I really appreciate the credit that you have given him! He deserves it and I’m am truly proud to say that I was one of his students!