100 years. That's how long the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps program has been in the Rockford Public Schools. Since then, the program has seen a lot of changes but in that time it has remained a program dedicated to serving the youth of Rockford.
Dedication you can see when you walk into the office of Col. David Draeger. Col. Draeger has been the director of the JROTC's program at Auburn High School for the past four years. Draeger said, "This is a roll up your sleeves, no kidding, down and dirty office. It's that way for a reason because by golly, we do work here."
Pictures, plaques and accomplishments on the walls tell the story of a Colonel with 30 years of military service. It's a service that he is now instilling in his JROTC students. Draeger said, "That's what I wanted to do. I wanted to help develop youth."
Developing youth through JROTC, it's something that has been happening in Rockford schools for the past 100 years.
Auburn High School Senior, Nathaniel Martinez said, "There is a rich history in Rockford. It really does make us feel like we are out here to help the community and help that Rockford history."
A long history of ups and downs for the program. At one time there were battalions at every high school in Rockford. Today, there is just one program standing and that's at Auburn High School.
Col. Draeger said, "Luckily they kept it here on the west side of Rockford. Now anyone in the school district can come here to Auburn High School to be a part of the program."
It's a program that has given purpose to students including Auburn High School Senior, Carena Clevenz, "I was lost. I didn't know what to do or where I was going. I found ROTC and it helped mold me to who I'm gonna be. It's just a wonderful experience."
Developing youth in Rockford, it's Col. Draegers proudest mission yet.
Draeger said, "Whats enduring? Whats enduring in life? Is it enduring that you make a lot of money? No its not. All that passes away. Whats enduring is what you can give to others and then what others can give to others."
To mark it's 100th anniversary, JROTC students will celebrate with a military ball later this month at Giovanni's.