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History of Marine Corps JROTC Program
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The Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC), like its senior counterpart ROTC came into being with the signing of the National Defense Act. The act authorized high schools the loan of federal military equipment and the assignment of active or retired military personnel as instructors on the condition that they followed a prescribed course of training. At its inception, the JROTC course consisted of a minimum of three hours of military training per week for a period of three years. Any JROTC graduate who completed this course of military instruction was authorized a certificate of eligibility for a reserve commission to be honored at age 21. This provision was phased out after World War I as the need for reserve officers dwindled. Unfortunately, when the United States entered World War I, few resources were available for the JROTC. Between 1916 and 1919, the War Department established only 30 JROTC units.

Federal support for and assistance to the JROTC program remained limited between the world wars. Due to funding constraints and a lack of enthusiasm on the part of the War Department, the number of JROTC units increased only gradually during 1919 to 1939. By 1929, 295 JROTC units were in operation, not impressive for a program that had been in existence for two decades.

There are many reasons for the limited growth during these years. Many high schools scheduled military classes and training at inconvenient and undesirable times. Some restricted JROTC instruction to the lunch hour while others accorded it time in the late afternoon or early evening. Shortages of space and resources resulted in student participation and enthusiasm dropping. If his facilities were only inadequate, a Professor of Military Science could count himself as fortunate; some instructors did not even have a desk to operate from.

In addition to a lack of support from the secondary education institutions, the JROTC found itself competing for qualified students from another high school training program called the National Defense Cadet Corps (NDCC). The main difference between the programs centered on the amount of support they received from the federal government. Whereas JROTC units received instructors and uniforms from the War Department, NDCC programs did not. Weapons and a few training aids were the most NDCC schools could expect in the way of material assistance. Many NDCC units wanted to join the JROTC program but were unable to do so due to the lack of funds to support JROTC expansion.

Because the supervision and funding of NDCC units rested solely in the hands of local school authorities, the War Department’s ability to exert its influence over them was limited. As a result, the War Department displayed less interest in the NDCC than it did the JROTC. As a result the NDCC took on second-class status and never attained the degree of military acceptance the JROTC had. By 1939, NDCC had only 34 programs in operation.

The two decades following World War II were austere times for JROTC. Due to funding and manpower constraints, the Army froze JROTC growth. This resulted in a boom for the NDCC, which did not rely on federal funding. As schools on the waiting list for JROTC programs realized that they would not be allowed a unit, they turned to the NDCC program to fill the void. Seventy-five NDCC units were established and by 1963 there totaled 109 units nationwide.

The first significant increase in JROTC units occurred when Robert S. McNamara became the Secretary of Defense in 1961. Mr. McNamara turned intense scrutiny on the program by questioning the $4.7 million needed annually to run the program and the 700 active duty personnel needed as instructors. He felt the cost was excessive for a program that, despite its title, produced no officers and made no “direct contribution to military requirements.” Mr. McNamara’s solution to this problem was to convert JROTC units into NDCC units. His reasoning was based on the fact that the cost of the entire NDCC program was less than $100,000 per year to administer and hence a substantial savings would be realized. The FY 1964 budget contained no provisions for funding the JROTC, with the exception of those units located at military schools. Some money was set aside to convert JROTC units into NDCC units but very little was actually allocated.

Mr. McNamara failed to realize the number of supporters for the JROTC program both in and out of Congress. Letters and telegrams flooded his office and those of members of Congress insisting the JROTC was an irreplaceable national asset and the effect it had on juvenile delinquency alone was worth its cost. JROTC supporters in the House of Representatives introduced legislation proposing the expansion of the program from the existing 254 units to a maximum of 2,000 units, and extension to both the Navy and Air Force (prior to this, the Army was the sole service represented in JROTC).

After an exhaustive survey of secondary school officials, community leaders, and parents, an 11-member Department of Defense (DoD) commission determined that, although the JROTC produced no officers and served no direct military purpose, JROTC was important and should expand nationwide. The Department of Defense realized it could not block the decision to maintain the JROTC and could not stop its expansion; instead, they decided to guide its expansion as best they could. The most important decision in that respect was the elimination of the 700 active duty members and their replacement by military retirees as JROTC instructors. Unfortunately for the NDCC, the commission recommended the elimination of the program due to the lack of resources and Army support. By 1973, only 17 NDCC units remained in operation.

On October 13, 1963, President John F. Kennedy signed Public Law 88-647, the ROTC Vitalization Act of 1964. It required the services to increase the number of JROTC units and to achieve a more homogeneous geographical distribution of units across the nation. Specifically, Public Law 88-647 requires that the Secretary of each military department shall establish and maintain a Junior ROTC, organized into units, at public and private secondary educational institutions which apply for a unit and meet the standards and criteria prescribed pursuant to this section. Not more than 200 units may be established by all of the military departments each year beginning with the calendar year 1966, and the total number of units that may be established on the date of enactment in this section, may not exceed 1,200. The President shall promulgate regulations prescribing the standards and criteria to be followed by the military departments in selecting the institutions at which units are to be established and maintained and shall provide for the fair and equitable distribution of such units throughout the Nation, except that more than one unit may be established and maintained at any military institute.

Of the 1,200 units authorized, 275 were allocated to the Secretary of the Air Force, 650 to the Secretary of the Army, and 275 to the Secretary of the Navy, of which 52 were made available to the Marine Corps.

On July 14, 1974, Congress further expanded the JROTC program to a maximum of 1,600 units, 200 to the Army, 100 to the Air Force and 100 to the Navy, of which the Marine Corps received 30. Due to the lack of funding, actual establishment of new units was limited to only 20 by 1980.

The most recent expansion of the JROTC program occurred on August 24, 1992, when Congress expanded the program to 3,500 units, resulting in the Marine Corps reaching a total allocation of 260 units. This dramatic raise was a direct result of General Colin Powell successfully lobbying for the expansion as a result of two significant events; the recent Los Angeles riots and the victory in Operation Desert Storm. General Powell believed that the riots underscored the lack of opportunities for teenagers in economically disadvantaged areas and, since the American people were once again proud of their American military, he wanted to ride the momentum to help high school youth, particularly those in troubled inner cities. Currently the JROTC program is awaiting another expansion.

Today’s Marine Corps JROTC is a composite of the lessons learned throughout the JROTC programs of the past. The modern JROTC program capitalizes on its mission to provide a course of leadership education designed to develop informed citizens, strengthening character by the teaching of discipline, and developing the understanding of the responsibilities of citizenship.