Portsmouth student pushes for Junior ROTC program

Portsmouth student pushes for Junior ROTC program

Mariah Warner (center) with her family: Parents Tito and Jessica Warner, and brothers Miles (left), 5, and Tito Mahkai, 10.

Mariah Warner (center) with her family: Parents Tito and Jessica Warner, and brothers Miles (left), 5, and Tito Mahkai, 10.
Mariah Warner (center) with her family: Parents Tito and Jessica Warner, and brothers Miles (left), 5, and Tito Mahkai, 10.
PORTSMOUTH — A military brat her whole life, Mariah Warner has had to make new friends and adjust to a different school every time her dad, a Navy supply corps officer, is re-stationed.

The 16-year-old sophomore at Portsmouth High School knows firsthand the many sacrifices children from military families make, and now she wants them to get some recognition for it.

Mariah has formally requested that Portsmouth schools initiate a Junior ROTC (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps) program at the high school. If a JROTC program isn’t established, she argues, students from military families should automatically receive at least one year, or the equivalent, of high school credit for the JROTC program.

Maria has sent her proposal to the school principal, the interim superintendent, the School Committee chairman, even Arne Duncan, U.S. secretary of education.

The Warner family has been stationed in Georgia, Florida (three times), Ohio and Japan before ending up last year in Portsmouth for a three-year stint.

“My (last) school had a Junior ROTC program but I didn’t take it that year because I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” Mariah said. “When we came to Rhode Island, my parents asked me, ‘What do you want to do with your life? What do you want to do in college and how do you want to get through college?’”

When she arrived at Portsmouth High, she thought JROTC was offered as an elective. It’s not; on Aquidneck Island, only Rogers High School has such a program.

“We were thinking about the military and the ROTC program,” said Mariah. “My school doesn’t have a Junior ROTC program and I really wanted to take it to build my résumé for college. So I thought, why don’t all military kids have one year’s credit for it at least, to show the recognition for the sacrifices and the hardships we go through along with our families, plus all the stuff we already know about the military?”

That knowledge has come from all the traveling she’s done to different bases, as well as the exposure to the military she’s gained through her father, Tito Warner, a supply corps officer who’s served in the U.S. Navy for 18 years. Besides learning about military protocol and traditions, Mariah has been aboard two nuclear air craft carriers, two frigates and a guided missile destroyer.

“I’ve learned so much from the military — respect, how to be independent, the rank structure for the Navy. I’ve been on different ships and seeing all the things they do on the ship and different jobs, especially with my dad — all the different jobs he has to do every time we move. He educates me on everything, so I know a lot,” she said.

That should count for something, Mariah said, especially when there’s no opportunity for her to take part in JROTC.

‘Very expensive programs’

School Committee Chairman David Croston said the district has studied the possibility of starting up a JROTC program, but lacks the funding to do so.

“We looked at Junior ROTC in general, not only in Portsmouth but in conjunction with Middletown. They’re very expensive programs. It’s not financially feasible at this time,” he said.

The School Committee will, however, review Mariah’s request regarding the JROTC credit, he said. “Of course, we would have to make sure that its integrity meets Rhode Island Department of Education standards,” said Mr. Croston.

Mariah has also been communicating with interim School Supt. Barbara McGann — a retired Navy rear admiral — about alternative ways to expose local students to JROTC. They include:

• providing bus transportation for PHS students to and from Rogers High School to “piggyback” on the Newport school’s program;

• soliciting active-duty volunteers to teach JROTC at PHS;

• implement a Navy Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps on the Navy Base for all surrounding schools (Mariah’s favorite idea) and;

• implementing a hybrid JROTC course offering both online instruction and practical instruction in concert with the Navy Base.

Dad: Helps civilian kids, too

Mariah Warner with her dad, Tito Warner, a supply officer in the U.S. Navy.
Mariah Warner with her dad, Tito Warner, a supply officer in the U.S. Navy.
Mr. Warner said he’s proud of his daughter’s initiative.

“I don’t know how far it will go, but I think it’s a valiant initiative that she’s trying to push,” he said. “I’ve talked to plenty of military folks that I know and they’re all 110 percent behind it — of course, since it would benefit their children as well. I think it will not only help military kids, but help civilian kids who otherwise would not know about the military. If it weren’t for the Junior ROTC program, I wouldn’t be in the Navy today.”

Mariah agreed that all students would benefit from learning more about the program. “I’ve talk to a lot of kids about this,” she said, “and they don’t even know what the Junior ROTC program is. They really don’t know anything about the military.”

Although there are downsides of being in a military family — having to say goodbye to friends and family chief among them — Mariah said the lifestyle has helped build her character.

“It’s made me really outgoing, easy to adapt to different environments,” she said. “I think the military has really made me who I am today.”