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NJROTC Brings Home Honors

Photo by Steve Bell
The Shawnee Mission North NJROTC drill team ranks number one in the nation.

By Steve Bell


Kansas City, MO – The line of crisp white shirts and dark navy trousers and service caps is accented by the lively colors of ribbons earned and the gleam of freshly polished black shoes. The 118 cadets of the Shawnee Mission North Junior Navy ROTC unit are lined up in the field house for their annual inspection. And they have a substantial reputation to protect.

Marine Chief Warrant Officer Dennis Grayless says the kids willingly get up before sunrise to attend the practices. He says, "Kids aren't any different today than they were in your generation. If good leadership is provided to them, if somebody cares about them, they work for you."

Grayless has been providing part of that leadership for the past two years. Chief Petty Officer Christopher Neven has been providing it for fourteen. Barrel-chested six and a half foot Neven is a perfect fit for what the kids call him: "The Chief." He says he knew he wanted to do this when he was in high school ROTC.

"The opportunities they gave me, and the knots they gave me up side of my head, figuratively speaking, about using my head... turned me around in high school, says Niven of his high school ROTC instructors. So he decided then to put in 20 years in the Navy followed by 20 years teaching high school NJROTC.

Instructors Neven and Grayless agree on what those lessons that can be taught are: citizenship, leadership, responsibility, resptect, and that if a person exhibits hard work, dedication and selflessness, he or she will be successful in any life endeavor.

About 40 percent of the kids who graduate from the program will serve in some branch of the military - usually through the college ROTC program. And the instructors are proud that the program sends an average of nearly one graduate per year to one of the service acadamies or the Citadel. Still they emphasize that Junior ROTC is not a recruiting program. Cadet Lt. Cdr. Heath Helmer agrees. He says it is simply a satisfying program that is lots of fun and helps him develop self-motivational ability and self-esteem.

About a fourth of today's cadets are women - like Cadet Ensign Amanda Harshbarger, who, like many of her friends used the word family in describing the unit. She says the cadets help each other through their problems and have a unity of purpose that makes their appreciation of this year's big wins even more powerful.

The friendship and the wins offer the greatest moment for the kids. Chief Neven says the greatest moments of Junior ROTC for him come at graduation, when all the unit forms two lines through which all the graduates march. He says when so many young people don't finish high school, it is an honor to be able to honor some who did.

The Shawnee Mission North Junior ROTC unit will honor this year's graduating seniors May 21st, As he has for fourteen years, Chief Neven will salute each graduate as they pass by. Neven says his fondest hope is some of those who were in his classes will pass along some important life lesson to their kids or grandkids and remember that they learned it from a big guy they called "The Chief."

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