Before Major Victor Aguilar came to Waimea High School back in 1995, the JROTC program didn’t exist for the Menehune. Fast forward 22 years and there isn’t a school in the state that has a larger percentage of students enrolled in the program than Waimea High.
After serving his country in the Army for 17 years, Aguilar saw an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of high school students. For one student in particular, it gave him a chance to think about his life after high school graduation.
“JROTC gave me a foundation for my future,” said sophomore cadet Wayne Noda. “It leads me to the right path through tough times in high school. This program helped me mature and gain responsibility and realize how the choices I make in life and impact my future.”
While he is a JROTC instructor, Aguilar’s passion for student achievement goes beyond any military participation. His goal is for students to achieve academic success and find a way to live well through hard work and perseverance.
Can you give me some background information on the JROTC program at Waimea High?
JROTC started in 1995. I did an interview on Oahu in August before school started. We started out with 49 cadets, then went to 78 the second year, then to 108 and continued with 108 for about three years and then went up to a high of 205 in 2001, about 20 percent of the student population at the time.
This year, we’re sitting at 29 percent with 160 cadets. Next year, we have 183 students projected, but we might get a few more with students who come in and change their schedules when they find out about JROTC. I think in the state of Hawaii, we have the largest percentage of students in a school that are cadets.
What made you want to come here to instruct the JROTC program?
I was a cadet. I was a high school cadet in Oklahoma from my sophomore to senior year and I was an ROTC scholarship student. I’m half-Chinese and half-Hispanic so I tell my students that I’m almost like you guys, so you can do it, too. I was a scholarship student, my brother was and my wife was. It’s all about believing that you can.
My last job in active duty was a being a recruiter for active Army and reserve. I was used to dealing with high schools and talking to them on a daily basis. So when I heard about the opening, I put my application in and went into for the interview and talked to the principal at the time and he hired me over all these colonels and lieutenant colonels. And I asked why he hired me, and he said that I was the only person that was low enough in rank that they wouldn’t mind getting their hands dirty because colonels wouldn’t want to do stuff like this.
I was 38 years old when I started teaching. I took early retirement from the Army after 17 years because they were doing a drawdown so I decided that I wasn’t going to make it 20, so I got out. I’ve been wearing the uniform longer here than I was for active duty. But I tell my students that the military is good, but it’s what you make of it. Do you want to move up? Then you have to apply yourself.
The military has been good to me, so I can tell my students about my experience. But I push them for college. My goal is to get everybody to go to college. However, we have some kids who just don’t want to do any more school. There are kids who don’t want to do that, but I say that’s fine as long as you’re going into the workforce and going out to get a job. I don’t discourage any of it.
You have those kids where high school was everything for them. And after they graduate, they stay around campus when the bell rings to see people getting off because all their friends have gone to college. They wait until the bell rings to come onto the campus so they’re the big kid on campus again. And I say to these kids, you don’t want to be there. You want to go forward, set your goals, but continue to achieve.
How has the program changed over the years, from when you first started in 1995?
There was no program before I got here. The first year, we had 49 kids and it was hard. There wasn’t a uniform policy back then so when they came to school and wore the uniform, everybody picked on them. Back then, I had them wear it all day. I told them that they had to make a presence. Wear the uniform, and ignore them. But it was hard because words hurt. I told them, ignore them and it will subside. But (the program) grew, and people started to respect them. This year, we made it a requirement to make the students wear the uniform all day whenever I see them for class.
Why is there such a large JROTC presence here?
I think it’s because we have a close community of family. A lot of them are nieces, nephews, sons and daughters of former members of the JROTC.
This might sound like an obvious question, but how important is it to have a program like JROTC?
When I got here, there was NHS, LEO and other service-based organizations and we wanted to blend right in. So anything that anybody asked, we would do. And now, we’re the only organization that people go to if they want help because our members are in LEO, in NHS and in INTERACT so in essence, they can come to us to get anything done and the other service organizations don’t really have many service activities because we have such a large body. But not everybody in the 163 participate all the time; we have a very strong 30 that do everything.
How do students react when they advance from middle school to high school and enroll in JROTC, in terms of developing as a disciplined student?
The students like it here. Sometimes we’re here as early as 6:30 a.m. and as late as 7 p.m. Sometimes when I get here at 6:45 in the morning, there’s already students waiting here at the door. A lot of these cadets have both parents working and they don’t want to be home alone. So it’s a good opportunity to work with friends and in that aspect, they’d rather work. It gives them camaraderie.
We can’t discipline them anymore than a regular teacher can. They’re self-motivators. So parents who say that they want their kid to join JROTC to get discipline, I can’t force anything. So we give themselves discipline and they discipline themselves watching other members of the group and how they carry themselves. It’s a mentorship program and a leadership program so when they advance to leadership positions, they inspire others to follow them.