PEPPERELL-- When no other programs were available, students at the North Middlesex Regional High School took it upon themselves to initiate a program for students interested in exploring the military.
NMOTC, as it is called, for North Middlesex Officer Training Corps, is technically an after-school club while its members apply for official recognition from the government.
"Without government recognition, we can't truly be a JROTC (Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps)," said Cadet First Lt. Chris Tucker, one of the club's founding members, "But it's supposed to mirror the NDCC (National Defense Cadet Corps) program, which mirrors the JROTC program. The only difference is that NDCC is privately funded."
The members of the club are currently working closely with Principal Christine Battye to apply for government recognition. Meanwhile, they are looking for donations and corporate sponsors to assist with funding.
"I think we should have at least a NDCC program by next year," said Tucker.
While waiting on governmental recognition, the club has dubbed themselves the 119th Patriot Group.
"We figured it was an appropriate name because Route 119 runs right by our school," said Tucker.
The club practices the drills and routines derived from the governmentally funded program: Physical training sessions, CPR and first aid, military history lessons, flag folding and community service are just a few aspects.
They also have a drill team, with help from the Pepperell VFW, which has volunteered to lend the team the use of their drill rifles.
"They're really helping us put this all together. They believe in us and we believe in ourselves," said Tucker.
The idea for the program began with Cadet Cpt. Mark Wyman, a senior who moved from Delaware last year. Wyman, who in already enlisted in the Army Special Forces and will begin training in June, had been involved with a ROTC program at his previous high school. He assumed the rank he had previously in his former program and had designated Tucker's rank for his assistance in launching the club.
"I felt it was something North Middlesex could benefit from. I had done three years of ROTC. My whole family is military," said Wyman. "I know North Middlesex, back in the past, used to have a ROTC program but it got shut down. So I brought it up and said I'd willing to run it. The military is one thing I love."
The primary object of the program is to instill leadership and teamwork skills. It is also to prepare students who might be interested in going into the military after school.
"I knew that the school had sports teams and things like that, but this is for other kids who want to do something but didn't have something to do," said Wyman.
Wyman began the process of starting the club last year. He went through then-Superintendent Maureen Marshall and Battye, but hit a roadblock after Marshall retired.
"So we had to re-start the whole process this year," said Wyman. "So over the summer I just sat down and started talking notes and doing more research. I came to school and mentioned it to Tucker."
Right after the football season, the two students jumped into the planning.
After launching the program in December, the club already has 15 members, and they're continuing to recruit. They are in the process of receiving both Army combat uniforms and physical training uniforms.
"It's gone beyond what I even thought it would. For a while, I thought it would end up being shut down due to lack of funds, but we're making out well," said Wyman.
Teacher Mike Parrish is the club's acting supervisor, but Lt. James Marley of the Marine Corps Reserves, a substitute teacher and Tucker's former football coach, has also volunteered to help.
"Mark and I do the actual teaching, but they supervise us and help us," said Tucker.
The program is non-committal. Students who are involved are able to participate in sports and other extra-curriculars. Tucker and Wyman encourage students who are curious or have a mild interest in the club to come see what it's all about.
"We push our cadets, we train them hard. But we never go over the top," said Tucker. "We make sure that nobody is left behind."