Lt. Miranda Luna, senior investigating officer, Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit Morgan City, Morgan City, Louisiana, started her trajectory into the military through the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) program at her high school. According to Luna, after her first JROTC camp in the 9th grade, she knew she wanted to join the military and become a commissioned officer.
Though high school students who participate in JROTC are not required to join the military after graduation, participation can help prepare students who are interested in enlisting, attending an academy, participating in a college ROTC program, or pursuing a commissioning through an officer candidate program. In 2023, approximately 34% of seniors graduating from Coast Guard JROTC affiliated with a branch the military, according to Cmdr. Clay R. Cromer, JROTC Program Manager for the Coast Guard.
Luna’s role in the Coast Guard is to investigate marine casualties, issue civil penalties, and suspend or revoke mariners’ licenses. Luna also serves as an active Partnership in Education (PIE) Program volunteer, something she has done since she joined the service almost seven years ago. Linking the PIE program and the local JROTC programs is something that Luna does to enhance the experiences of high school students and potentially provide them an avenue to join the military. As a PIE volunteer, she currently supports an Army JROTC program in Morgan City which engages students from Morgan City, Patterson, and Berwick high schools.
“If it gave me a career path, I know it can do that same for other students,” said Luna. “More than preparing students for military career, JROTC provides students with a welcoming, respectful, and highly collaborative environment which fosters a sense of belonging, a can-do attitude, and the skills necessary to succeed. Knowing the positive impact JROTC programs have on students, schools, communities, and our nation, I am honored to give back by providing volunteer support to JROTC.”
Petty Officer 1st Class Corinne Zilnicki, supervisory public affairs specialist with the Coast Guard Public Affairs Detachment in Texas, also volunteers for the PIE Program and has done a lot of work in support of JROTC programs for Sector Houston – Galveston, winning unit of the 2023 Sustained Excellence PIE Program Award.
Zilnicki organized at least a half dozen JROTC field trips to Coast Guard units in the sector. According to Zilnicki, organizing a field trip can be logistically challenging as units must be solicited, activities planned, and volunteers recruited to engage a large group of students in experiential learning opportunities for a substantial part of a day.
For a visit to Base Galveston by 40 JROTC students from Jack Yates High School, Houston, Texas, Zilnicki organized tours, presentations, question and answer sessions, and hands-on activities associated with the Service’s missions and career opportunities. Students toured response boats, cutters, and donned firefighting equipment and hauled hoses to extinguish a simulated fire.
The effort to organize a field trip for students in JROTC programs is worth it according to Zilnicki.
“JROTC field trips are enriching for the students, enjoyable for Coast Guard personnel, and helpful in building meaningful relationships with schools and students,” said Zilnicki. “After welcoming a group of students to a Coast Guard unit, school administrators and teachers see that the Coast Guard is committed to supporting students. As a result, field trips open hearts and doors and help expand our PIE Program.”
In Sector Houston-Galveston, JROTC field trips have helped bring together students and Coast Guard personnel in ongoing mentoring relationships. According to Zilnicki, students in JROTC have a strong military bearing, are interested in learning about Coast Guard missions, and have an impressive work ethic for students their age. “When CG personnel mentor students in JROTC, they often inspire us just as much as we may inspire them.”
The Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard each operate their own JROTC programs for high school students. According to a Congressional Research Service report, in 2020 more than 500,000 students were active in 3,400 units across the U.S. and Department of Defense schools overseas.
The Coast Guard established its first JROTC unit in 1992, and currently has 10 JROTC programs. Under recent federal legislation, the Coast Guard is expanding the JROTC program to every Coast Guard District by 2025.
For more information about the PIE Program, visit https://www.uscg.mil/Resources/Civil-Rights/Partnership-in-Education-Program/ For more information about the Coast Guard’s JROTC program, visit https://www.uscg.mil/community/JROTC/