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
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
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.