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November 4, 2016

JROTC cadets build skills, relationships through marksmanship

The sporadic popping of air rifles, rather than squeaking sneakers and shouts, echo in Kennewick High School’s annex gym.

Cadets in the school’s Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC), positioned a little short of half-court, take aim at target boxes set up at the end of the room. Tarps and backstops protect the walls from any stray shots.

“It’s all mental, there’s no real physical challenge except for being as still as possible,” says freshman Andrew Garson. “You just need to get a ten.”

Now in its third year, the school’s Air Force JROTC unit established the marksmanship team this fall. Ten students are actively training for shooting competitions held throughout the fall and winter.

Offering marksmanship is a way to raise the unit’s profile and recruit new cadets, says Lt. Col. Curtis Wichers, the unit’s commander. It’s also a way to strengthen ties and teamwork among current cadets and teach skills.

“Any after school activity creates engagement,” Wichers says. The commander adds that developing such relationships are key for students to be successful in life and not just the military.

Air Force JROTC offers students a basic military experience through drill and physical training along with lessons in Air Force history and leadership skills. Cadets are not required to join the military but they can receive incentives should they enlist after graduation or continue with a ROTC unit at a college or university.

The cadets train several days a week in the annex gym, setting up and tearing down the target range each day. The air rifles are stored in a secured gun safe when not in use. Any student who wishes to participate must pass a safety exam to join the marksmanship team.

“They’ve surprised me, their skills are better than I thought they’d be,” Wichers says of the marksmanship cadets.

Garson and fellow cadet Brendan Harkin recently participated in the team’s first competition in Walla Walla, facing off against other students from there as well as Spokane and Colville.

Any students interested in joining Air Force JROTC can contact Wichers at