Kevin Clark / The Herald
                                Port Angeles’ Makayla Peabody leads the unarmed drill team during the Northwest JROTC Drill and Rifle Competition at Everett High School on Jan. 26.

Kevin Clark / The Herald Port Angeles’ Makayla Peabody leads the unarmed drill team during the Northwest JROTC Drill and Rifle Competition at Everett High School on Jan. 26.

Students learn leadership, discipline in Everett NJROTC

“We’re kind of like a family,” sophomore Eleanor Geraghty, 16, said of the high school program.

EVERETT — Students shot targets with air rifles in one room, and in another they filled out a questionnaire based on the SAT. Others followed meticulous choreography, moving in sync across the gym floor.

Nearly 400 Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps students from seven high schools met at the Northwest Drill and Rifle Conference at Everett High School late last month. Students from Arlington, Marysville, Snohomish, Burlington, Oak Harbor and Port Angeles joined the Seagulls.

The schools usually compete every few months, and about once a year on the historic campus. This time, Everett’s NJROTC teams mostly came in first and second place. Each exercise helps the teens build skills, such as leadership and discipline.

At Everett, NJROTC is an elective class and students can sign up any time. The “N” is added because the class pertains to the Navy, primarily because of its proximity to Naval Station Everett.

Many students don’t necessarily join because of an interest in the military, said Cmdr. Rick Gile, an Everett High School NJROTC instructor.

“Some just have a friend here,” he said. “Once they stick their toe in the water, they think, ‘Oh yeah, I like this.’”

Gile spent 25 years in the Navy and retired as a commander. Afterward, he ran the University of Washington’s ROTC program.

He’s now been at the local high school for more than a decade. In that time, the program has been called most improved in the nation. Gile also was nominated for the state’s teacher of the year award in 2012.

About 47 percent of high schoolers in NJROTC go into the military, according to the national program’s official website. Gile estimates that less than half that many Everett students enlist after graduation. He doesn’t bring recruiters into the classroom, he said.

The variety of JROTC means that kids usually can find an activity they’re interested in, Gile said. Some may want to challenge themselves to a 50-question timed quiz, while others attempt to run a record mile.

Others participate in drill, where dozens of students step and clap in coordination.

“It looks like a machine,” Gile said. “Over time they learn how to discipline their minds to have complete control over their body.”

Cadet Petty Officer 1st Class Eleanor Geraghty, 16, is a sophomore and on the school’s unarmed drill team.

Geraghty had gone to Immaculate Conception & Our Lady of Perpetual Help School on Hoyt Avenue before her freshman year. She knew three people at the public high school when she started.

“JROTC is really close and tight-knit. We’re kind of like a family,” she said. “I needed that coming to high school.”

Geraghty doesn’t plan on joining the military. She hopes to become an environmental lawyer. She recently visited a local beach she hadn’t been to in years.

“There was hardly any sea life and I heard about the orcas dying,” she said. “That was kind of my childhood, and it wasn’t there anymore. I want to help change that.”

Cadet Ensign Ashlyn Nigh, 16, has wanted to join the military since she was a child. Her parents met in the Army. Nigh hopes to attend a Navy or Air Force academy, and someday become a doctor.

She’s a junior and has been in NJROTC each year. She competes in events including marksmanship and academics. Each group practices about two times per week, on weekends and during holiday breaks.

“Last year I was on so many teams that I was there after school every single day until at least 6 o’clock, and on Saturday mornings,” she said.

During last month’s event, she and Geraghty were watching the color guard team when Nigh was called to help with another activity. She jumped from her seat on the bleachers and quickly said goodbye to her friend.

Geraghty needed to get into uniform for drill anyway. She left the Norm Lowery Gymnasium and crossed the street to the Everett Civic Auditorium.

Yellow, blinking crosswalk lights illuminated the thick morning fog. Geraghty passed students from other schools already wearing their military garb. Once inside, she walked down stairs that led to classrooms in the basement.

About an hour later, Geraghty was back in the gym. She and the rest of the drill team lined up on the reflective basketball court as they got ready for their routine. The word “Seagulls” marked the blue and gold bleachers behind them.

Without music, shined shoes began to click in unison on the varnished floor.

Stephanie Davey: 425-339-3192; sdavey@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @stephrdavey.

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