World War II veteran Bob Gast (R) reviews the Warsaw Community High School JROTC’s uniforms with Maj. Friedrich Josellis (L) during Gast’s 100th birthday celebration in March. Cadet Lt. Col. Michael Shilling is in the center. Photo by David Slone, Times-Union.
World War II veteran Bob Gast (R) reviews the Warsaw Community High School JROTC’s uniforms with Maj. Friedrich Josellis (L) during Gast’s 100th birthday celebration in March. Cadet Lt. Col. Michael Shilling is in the center. Photo by David Slone, Times-Union.
Over its 10 years at Warsaw Community High School, the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) has upgraded its uniforms, fluctuated in numbers, participated in numerous activities and won a number of competition awards.

During that time, cadets, like Makayla Leamon, also have graduated and gone on to successful careers in and out of the military. Leamon is now a doctor of veterinary medicine.

“I gained value from working as a team with people of various backgrounds and disciplines to reach the common goal of being our best selves, both mentally and physically, in order to better serve others,” she said via email about her time in JROTC.

The one thing that hasn’t changed during the program’s decade of evolution is also its strongest supporter - instructor Maj. Friedrich Josellis (retired). He has taught the cadets since day one of the program at Warsaw, first with Sgt. Maj. Mark Whitford (ret.) for about four years and then Command Sgt. Maj. Jon Mitchell (ret.) for about the last six years.

In February 2013, the Warsaw School Board approved an Army JROTC unit at the high school, beginning with the 2013-14 school year.

In an interview Monday about the program’s 10 years, Josellis acknowledged the JROTC’s enrollment numbers were lower this year than when it first started, probably because of all of the different programs WCHS offers now, but, “How many high schools have something like this? How many of them do an automotives? How many of them have aviation? How many of them have a Blue Apron?”

Warsaw is the first school where Josellis served as a JROTC instructor. Before coming here, he was full-time Army National Guard, serving as a communications officer. He was supposed to go to the Illinois State Police Academy where he had a position, but learned about JROTC about five months before that. In order to be a JROTC instructor, one has to be retired from service. Josellis retired Dec. 31, 2012, after 28 years.

He got accepted to a JROTC position at Peoria (Ill.) High School, but for a reason unknown to him, his hiring was reversed. Josellis had retired from the Guard for that job.

Josellis applied for a variety of jobs, but one day he was looking at the “JROTC pages,” he said, and learned of the Warsaw job. He didn’t know Whitford before both came to Warsaw. There are always two instructors for a JROTC program - an officer and an enlisted.

The JROTC program can lead to scholarships for students.

“I think, as I’ve been here for nine years, one of the biggest maybe heartbreaks or disappointments or frustrations, all those things, is - when we (WCHS) announce who is graduating and going on to the military, half of them are not cadets. And I’m like, ‘Why aren’t you in JROTC?’” he said. “They leave $5,000 on the table. If you and I went to boot camp and you did it, your rank would be E-3 while I’m at E-1 and our careers would resemble that through the years. You’d be going higher and I’d always be tagging somewhere behind you. At some point, you’re going to be supervising cleaning a toilet, I’m going to be cleaning toilets and we went to boot camp together. It’s leaving money on the table, if they enlist.”

JROTC cadets do community service projects, like Boomerang Backpacks, but the color guard also presents the colors at events like Komets and Notre Dame hockey games. From a military perspective, Josellis said one posting of the colors he liked doing the most was for Medal of Honor recipient and Army Sgt. Allen J. Lynch on May 25, 2022, in conjunction with Zimmer Biomet Veterans Resource Group’s Memorial Day wreath-laying ceremony.

“The Army only requires us to do five, and I’m like, I could do five during Veterans Day and never have to do another one,” Josellis said.

It took a couple years at the beginning of the program before the WCHS JROTC teams began winning awards.

“We started taking little piecemeal ones where we’d go to an event and we didn’t get the event overall trophies, but we’d get like Best Tug-of-War, Best Whatever or third-place in tug-of-war or something like that. So we got all these little ones, but never the big one, and then there was the Big One. And since then, they’ve been coming in on like a yearly basis,” Josellis said.

One of the things Josellis said they’re trying to get for the JROTC is a Raider course.

“The Raiders are a fitness team. If you’ve ever seen the pictures of them doing what they do, they’re scaling over 10-foot walls, they’ve got litters that weigh about 120 pounds, maybe,” he said.

It’s not so much money needed for the course, he said, as it is a place.

“Every Raider activity has always been outside. Everything they do is outside,” Josellis said, adding that’s probably the reason why WCHS doesn’t have one yet.

One of Warsaw’s leading cadets (Jordance Jamison) is actually spearheading “this awesome, awesome effort” to get a Raider course, Josellis said.

Josellis hopes in the next 10 years they get some traction on the Raider course, eyeing the patch of trees between Edgewood Middle School, Washington Elementary and WCHS.

“We’re going to be able to put rope bridges in there. We want to put our obstacles in there. We’re going to get fencing paid for. There’s some cost for it. Jordance, on his own, is also trying to get community support to pay for it, and he says he’s confident that he’s already got some of it done,” Josellis said.

Like Josellis, Mitchell retired from the Indiana Army National Guard, after almost 27 years. Whitford called Mitchell when he decided to move to Texas and told him the Warsaw JROTC instructor position would be open.

“He told me all the great things about it. I came to visit within one afternoon, and that was it for me. That was enough to kind of sell me on it - just being with the kids, seeing the discipline, the character development and all the other things that these guys do,” Mitchell said.

He said the biggest thing he has seen has been the growth of the students each year.

The JROTC participated in a competition last weekend in Canton, Ohio. Monday afternoon, after school, the cadets did an after-action review to discuss what they did well and what they need to improve on.

“The good thing is, they did do a lot of good things this weekend. So, just finding those little things to maybe get better at, and other things that we’ve been doing well, to sustain those,” Mitchell said.

Senior A.J. Baker went through the Guard’s boot camp June 8, graduating Aug. 19. He’s been in JROTC all four years of his high school career.

He said he’s stayed in the program because of the comradery, people in it and the teams like drill and color guard. Baker is on both the drill and color guard teams.

“It helps give me more discipline and it helps me with my leadership capabilities as I have to lead everyone else, teach them my knowledge and what I have. Overall, it’s just a fun experience,” Baker said.

Michael Shilling, the cadet lieutenant colonel, is in his fourth year of JROTC, while Samuel King, cadet sergeant major, is in his third year.

“I originally joined Junior ROTC because I had ambitions to go into the military, but through high school I’ve made so many friends in the program and I’ve became attached with all of our teams, I compete in all four of them, that’s why I stayed,” Shilling said.

King said his story was similar.

“I’ve always wanted to be in the military a little bit, every now and then, and I had friends in the program so I decided to join. And then you come in, it’s more like a family community, so you stay in and you get friends you’ve known for three, four years,” King said.

“I would enjoin all students to join JROTC just because of the family aspect of the program, and the connections you are able to make,” Shilling said, adding that the friends he’s made include cheerleaders, football players and more. “You just meet an entire community of students and you just grow into one tight family.”