Five Decatur JROTC cadets entering the armed forces

June 5—The 19 cadets who were seniors in the junior ROTC program at Decatur High have received more than $400,000 in scholarships this year, and five of them are entering or are already in the armed forces.

One of those cadets, Quincy Watkins, enlisted in the Alabama National Guard when he was 17. He completed basic Army combat training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, days before starting his senior year at Decatur High.

Watkins first joined the JROTC program in his second year to seek better guidance and make improvements in his life.

“I had a really bad attitude problem before I joined JROTC,” Watkins said. “I didn’t really know what I wanted to do after high school, so JROTC helped me with career planning and my teamwork skills. I guess that made me a better leader, too.”

Watkins quickly developed a tough work ethic and a positive personality, said Lt. Col. Michael Snyder, senior army instructor at JROTC. These attributes earned Watkins the role of sergeant major in the JROTC program this year.

“A very likeable young man, I don’t think he’s ever met a stranger,” Snyder said. “Quincy is goal-oriented and enjoys building a team and getting them to complete a task.”

Watkins works as a server at the Japanese restaurant Ninja on Point Mallard Parkway and will attend the University of North Alabama in the spring where he will major in interior design. He also plans to join the ROTC program at UNA.

Watkins is part of the split-training option, which allows 17-year-old juniors to join the Army Reserves or National Guard. Juniors must complete 10 weeks of basic combat training during the summer after their junior year and return to school to graduate before leaving for advanced individual training.

Snyder said cadets who complete basic training before graduating from high school don’t often perform at Decatur High. He said Watkins and fellow cadet John Jimenez were inspired by a former caddy who had accomplished this feat.

“The first to do that was Matthew Tankersley, and he graduated in 2019,” Snyder said. “They both saw what Tankersley had done, and I think they used that as an example of, ‘Hey, I can do basic training. I can do (advanced individual training) and then I positions me where I do.’

Four other cadets also enter the armed forces. John Jimenez has joined the military and will go to UNA with Watkins in the spring. Jennifer Luviano and Carlos Palacios have enlisted in the Army and are awaiting their appointment to report for Army Basic Combat Training later this summer.

Cadet Griffin Alexander graduated from high school in December and enlisted in the Marines and graduated from Marine Corps Boot Camp in April. He received combat training at Camp Geiger in Jacksonville, North Carolina.

Snyder said Watkins and Jimenez were on the shooting team this year and were “regular performers.”

Watkins and Jimenez will go through AIT, followed by an annual two-week training in the summer.

“AT (annual training) is something that all reserve soldiers have to do every summer for two weeks,” Watkins said.

Watkins signed a six-year contract with the Army.

On April 24, members of the Decatur JROTC carried the casket of George Mills, a revered World War II veteran and Decatur prisoner of war who helped mentor Decatur JROTC students for years. Watkins said they thought of him as a grandfather and clung to every piece of advice he gave them.

“He was a very selfless person. He thought of others before he thought of himself,” Watkins said. “He told us he was there for us and if we ever needed anything he was always there to cheer us on and cheer us on.”

Watkins said he considered his role as one of Mills’ pallbearers an honor.

“Of all the people George Mills knew, he decided to choose JROTC cadets to be his porters,” Watkins said. “It was an honor for us to do this and show him our appreciation.”

Snyder said he wanted his cadets to reflect on life after high school and constantly talk to them about opportunities in the armed forces.

“The way I approach it is that I teach them about setting goals after high school and help them come up with a plan to achieve that goal,” Snyder said. “But these are their goals that they set for themselves.”

This year’s senior cadets all set goals, with some choosing to further their education like Alan Clara and Janet Martinez-Mendoza, who both received scholarships worth $176,000 to attend the Berea College in Berea, Kentucky. Four cadets received the Semper Fi Community Task Force Bob Marshall Memorial Scholarship and the Decatur Lions Club Scholarship.

The cadets also scored 97.5 out of 100 in their March triennial inspection, earning them the nation’s highest honor of “honor unit with distinction.”

The total amount of scholarships awarded was over $430,000.

[email protected] or 256-340-2438.