Leavenworth High School boasts that it has the oldest Junior ROTC unit in the country.

Leavenworth High School boasts that it has the oldest Junior ROTC unit in the country.

The program officially started in 1917. But prior to the establishment of the JROTC unit, the high school had a military science and tactics program that dated back to 1897.

"We've got to live up to the legacy," said Lt. Col. Eric Hollister, the senior Army instructor for the JROTC unit at Leavenworth High School.

There currently are about 340 students, or cadets, enrolled in the program.

And while the program is affiliated with the Army, Hollister said it is not intended to be a recruiting tool for the military.

"Our mission is to make better citizens," he said.

Leavenworth is an military community, but Hollister said the JROTC program does not have as many children of military personnel as one might think. He said only 24 percent of students who were in the program last year had parents serving on active duty in the military.

Hollister described the JROTC program as a civics class on steroids.

Leadership training is part of the part of the program. He said students serve in leadership positions within the JROTC battalion at Leavenworth High School.

"The battalion is pretty much student run," Hollister said.

Known as the Pioneer Battalion, the JROTC program is divided into six companies. Each company meets as a class.

Hollister said each company includes students ranging from freshmen to seniors.

Students are issued uniforms for the program. Hollister said students are required to wear uniforms once per week.

In addition to the classroom portion, the JROTC program has 13 special teams including two drill teams, a rifle team, a cadet chorus and a drum and bugle corps.

One of the drill teams, known as the Pioneer Guard, is led by Cadet Capt. Sean Rocha.

Rocha said he enjoys the JROTC because it is a challenge and makes him want to work harder.

The commander of the other drill team, the Cavalry Angels, is Cadet Capt. Carissa Cunningham.

Cunningham said her favorite thing about the JROTC program is its family atmosphere.

"We push each other to be our best," she said.

The drill teams compete against other teams in regional and national events.

The battalion's raider team also competes against teams from other schools at regional and national events.

Hollister said the raiders compete in physical activities such as a 10-kilometer road march and setting up rope bridges.

The Pioneer Battalion is hosting its annual raider meet today at Leavenworth High School.

Hollister said the battalion's color guard serves as the face of the JROTC program because this team appears at many events in the community.

Last year, the color guard participated in more than 80 events.

Students in the JROTC program also are required to complete at least 10 hours of community service per academic quarter.

While the Pioneer Battalion is located at Leavenworth High School, students from neighboring schools are allowed to participate. Students from Lansing High School, Immaculata High School, Patton Junior High School, McLouth High School and Basehor-Linwood High School are enrolled this year in the program.

"Last year, our battalion commander was a Lansing cadet," Hollister said.

Most of the funding for the JROTC program comes from the Army. Hollister said the Army pays for half of his salary as well as half of the salaries of the three other retired military personnel who serve as instructors for the program. The other half is paid for by the school district.

Hollister said the district also provides money for things such as transportation and team equipment.

"The district is very generous," he said.

The JROTC program was established by the National Defense Act of 1916. The unit at Leavenworth High School officially has been in existence since Jan. 29, 1917.

Hollister said he cannot be certain that other units were not established at the same time, but Leavenworth High School's claim of being first in the nation has not been challenged.

"Nobody has ever disputed our claim as being the first," he said.

Twitter: @LVTNewsJohnR