SNOHOMISH — Kayla Dunham has found people she considers family in her school’s JROTC classes.
She’s going into her senior year at Snohomish High School and credits the program with helping her succeed.
“It’s probably one of the best experiences I’ve had in my life,” she said.
“If I did not join ROTC, I can honestly tell you, I would not be here now.”
From Monday through Friday this week, the high school hosted students from all over the Northwest at an air rifle camp. The teens work on leadership skills, positive thinking and their shooting aim. They use Airsoft rifles to shoot pellets into electric targets, which give them real-time feedback. The camp is offered through the Civilian Marksmanship Program out of Anniston, Alabama. At Snohomish High School, the air rifle team is organized by ROTC.
Dunham joined ROTC in her freshman year after a friend told her about it. The class has given her confidence and leadership skills. It is structured like the military, and students work to advance through the ranks.
Without the program, Dunham doesn’t think she’d be working toward her goals. She has always believed her calling is to help people.
She plans to enlist in the National Guard after graduation, so she can be in the military and also go to college. She wants to apply to schools on the East Coast and someday become a teacher and foster parent.
Dunham thinks other students might be surprised to learn more about the class.
“People think once you join ROTC, you’re committed to the military, and a lot of us are not even going into the military,” she said.
About 20 percent of the students end up joining the military, said Capt. William Lennon, Snohomish High School’s Marine Corps ROTC instructor.
Lennon worked to bring the camp to the school — the first time it’s been hosted at Snohomish.
Participating teens have used the week to hone their technique. At the end, they’ll compete. Teams shoot from three different positions: Lying, kneeling and standing. Depending on where they hit a target, each shot can be worth up to 10 points. The highest possible score in a competition is 600.
Shooting teaches skills like discipline and focus, things that are useful beyond marksmanship, Lennon said.
“You’ve got to have a really positive mindset when you’re shooting,” he said. “The second the negatives start creeping in, you get negative results.”
Dunham watched her score climb nearly 20 points within four days. She joined the school’s air rifle team as a sophomore and hopes to go to nationals this year. One of her favorite parts of the camp has been learning from college mentors from around the country, who are teaching lessons during the week.
On Wednesday, they talked about failure. It’s something Dunham has thought about a lot.
Without the support she’s found in ROTC, she might have had a hard time passing classes in high school, she said.
“ROTC gave me a reason to get up in the morning. It gave me family, it made me want to come to school,” she said. “It gave me friends I’m probably going to have for life, and made me into the person I am today.”
Stephanie Davey: 425-339-3192; firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @stephrdavey.