The Marines are coming to Kelly Walsh.
The high school announced in mid-December that it would be establishing the first Marine Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps — better known as JROTC — program in Wyoming. When the ribbon is cut on the program this fall, it’ll also be the first Marine JROTC established anywhere in some time, said Duane Reimer, a KW teacher who helped spearhead the effort.
“You can get an Army one, a Navy one, you can get an Air Force one, but the Marines weren’t expanding,” Reimer said. He wasn’t completely sure why, but he suspected it was likely related to funding constraints.
Fortunately, someone knew a “friendly Marine higher up,” who was able to get a letter onto the desk of the “secnav” — military speak for the secretary of the Navy. It just so happened that the new secnav, Richard V. Spencer, lived in Teton County from 2009 until he moved to D.C. after being appointed by President Donald Trump.
“We don’t know the full story, but we got approved,” Reimer said.
But establishing a JROTC takes more than a friendly official on the East Coast. For one, Kelly Walsh needed space for the students to drill and train. Fortunately, the school was working through a massive renovation, including on its aquatic facility, which sits across the student parking lot from the main building.
There’s a room off of the main pool area that’s used as a ready space for competitors. But it’s also a “perfect spot” for a JROTC facility, Reimer said. It has potential to be the best in the West.
The Marines are hiring an officer and an enlisted service member to run the program, and KW students are already enrolling.
Kelly Walsh’s cross-town counterpart, Natrona County High, already has an Army JROTC program. It’s one of the oldest in the West, Reimer said.
He said at least part of the motivation for Kelly Walsh to start its own program is because of how it can improve student achievement and make kids feel like they belong.
“If kids belong, they graduate,” he said. “For us it’s another way to get kids involved and get them doing things that are going to get them graduated.”
As for whether Spencer, the Navy secretary, will be in attendance when the program is officially unveiled next fall, Reimer said the move is in the works. The school wants to make the occasion as big as possible, maybe with some more help from above.
“There are some big famous people who have some Wyoming ties,” he said. “We’re going to try really hard, we have some guys who think they can help us pull that off.”