ROBERTSDALE, Alabama — In mythical lore, Davy Jones’s Locker is a place at the bottom of the sea, a place that struck fear in the hearts of sailors. The Naval Junior ROTC group at Robertsdale …
ROBERTSDALE, Alabama — In mythical lore, Davy Jones’s Locker is a place at the bottom of the sea, a place that struck fear in the hearts of sailors. The Naval Junior ROTC group at Robertsdale High School, however, hopes that its Davy Jones’s Locker will instill confidence rather than fear for those who go through it.
On military bases and college campuses, it is known as an obstacle course, but RHS JROTC Commander Lt. Col. Scott Meehan is calling it a “confidence” course instead.
“We want this course to instill confidence in those who go through it,” he said. “While we still want it to be a challenge, we also want it to be something that those of all skill levels can go through with a sense of accomplishment.”
It started as a .4 acre plot tucked in between just east of the RHS baseball field and track that was overgrown with trees and brush.
“When we started, you couldn’t walk through it,” Meehan said. “It was basically a swamp that stayed wet because it was so overgrown that sunlight couldn’t get through to dry it out.”
When the school’s landscaping classes started using the surrounding land for a golf course and turf fields as an educational tool, but was unable to use the small plot of land because it was too overgrown, the ROTC group decided to take on the challenge of clearing it themselves for their confidence course.
They approached Principal Joe Roh and gained approval for the project, but there was one small problem.
“We discovered that the school system didn’t actually own the land,” Meehan said, “the city of Robertsdale does, so we had to go to the city to get permission to use the land.”
After obtaining a temporary permit to use the land, Meehan said, the group has spent the better part of the summer, clearing the property in preparation for setting up the obstacles. They’ve also had a lot of help along the way.
“One of our students was working for a forestry company over the summer (Blades Forestry Inc.),” Meehan said. “He was telling them about the project and one weekend, they brought all of their equipment out to help use clear the land.”
And while they were not going to charge for the use of the equipment, Meehan said, they were able to take up a collection to pay for their services.
“This is their busiest time of the year and they were going to take their time and equipment to help us, free of charge,” he said. “We simply couldn’t let them do that.”
With the start of the new school year, just around the corner, said Meehan and instructor Petty Officer Edward Theodoro, the plot of land is now clear and ready for the obstacles to be put in place.
“Of course, like everything else around here, all the rain we’ve had has slowed us down a bit,” Meehan said. But in spite of all the rain, the cleared course is almost completely dried out from the murky swamp at the beginning.
“Our goal at this point is to complete one obstacle per month,” Meehan said, a total of 15 obstacles, “so we’re probably not going to be finished with it this year.”
As the school year begins, however, the group has hit another obstacle for the project.
“We had some funds set aside for the project,” Meehan said, “but we ended up having to use those funds to outfit the cadets.”
Over the last three years, Meehan said, the group has grown by over 300 percent, enrolling 230 cadets this year. The numbers, Meehan said, reflect the success of the program over the last few years.
“We recently returned from a national academic competition in Washington, D.C.,” he said. “This is our second year competing in the competition. Last year we went in eighth out of 583 teams in the world. We came out of the competition seventh. This year we went in seventh and finished No. 6. That puts us in the top 0.5 percent of all programs in the entire world and I believe our numbers reflect that. Success breeds success.”
And while the number of students joining the program has increased dramatically, he said, there’s another number that people around campus and around the area will start seeing this year, 92330.
In October, Meehan said, the group will face a biannual inspection from Navy headquarters. One of the requirements of the inspection is to have goals for the coming year and all the cadets are required to know what those goals are.
“In order to help them remember the goals, we put it on the back of our uniform T-shirts,” Meehan said.
In 2015 when he took over as commander, the program was ranked 39th among JROTC programs. They went from that to 22nd in 2016, to 10th in 2017.
“Our goal for this year is to go from 10th to ninth, thus the 9.”
In 2017 the group finished third in Regional competition. This year the goal is to finish second. Thus the 2.
In 2017 the group competed in the international academic competition for the second year. They hope to go for a third straight year. Thus the 3.
The last two numbers are together and stand for 3.0, Meehan said. The goal to increase the cadets average GPA from 2.92 to 3.0.
“We want people to know what these numbers mean and we want our cadets to be able to explain it to them,” he said. “That way when the inspection rolls around, they will remember it.”
But the onslaught of students joining the program has created a challenge with funding, he said.
“It’s a good problem to have,” Meehan said. “We’re set up to fundraise for about 90 to 100 students. There is a small fee for the cadets ($15 per year) that has not increased since the program started in the early 90s. It’s going to be a challenge for us to figure out a way to change the way we fundraise.”
Meehan and Theodoro are hoping that the community will help out.
“We have the land. We certainly have plenty of hands on deck to do the work,” he said. “What we need are materials for the project.”
Materials such as pressure treated lumber, cables, ropes and conduit.
“Any farmers who have old tractor tires they are going to dispose of, we can take those,” Meehan said.
“We can certainly use those.”
Old railroad ties would also be good for use in the course. The group already has some old poles, left over from the replacement of light poles at the baseball field.
“Anything like that, such as used telephone and power poles, would work out here,” he said.
One of the biggest needs, he said, is hardware, nuts, bolts, things like that used to hold the whole thing together. Another big need is mulch.
“We definitely need something to cover the ground so that when they fall, they don’t get hurt,” Meehan said. “To do that we figured we would need to cover the whole plot in four inches of mulch.”
That comes to about 80 tons, or four 18-wheeler loads full of mulch, he said.
When finished, Meehan said, he believes the course will be the only one of its kind, definitely in Baldwin County, maybe in the state of Alabama.
“You certainly have to go to Mississippi to find another high school JROTC with this kind of course,” he said.
The ultimate goal for the course is for other schools and groups to be able to come and use the course and to eventually be able to host competitions on the course.
“It will also be an invaluable tool for our cadets,” he said. While it is not a requirement of the program, many of the cadets will go on to enlist in the military or go on to join college ROTC. “When they get there and have to go through an obstacle course, they will already be familiar with many of the obstacles and will have greater confidence heading into the challenge.”