Junior ROTC teams from 18 Tennessee Valley high schools were recognized at the ninth annual JROTC Medal of Honor Leadership Dinner, Friday at The Summit. The event is hosted by the Redstone Arsenal Sergeants Major Association.
Retired Col. John Wright, who served as an ordnance officer for 26 years, was the guest speaker for the event. Wright encouraged the cadets to grow and develop as leaders and citizens. He also encouraged them to listen and learn from their elders, but to bring their own innovative ideas as well.
Following Wright’s keynote address, association members recognized the cadets for their leadership, awarded the top drill teams, and – for the first time – presented a scholarship to one outstanding cadet.
The event is named in honor of retired Command Sgt. Maj. Gary Littrell, who was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions when he was a sergeant first class assigned to the U.S. Military Assistance Command in Vietnam. In April 1970, while serving as a light weapons infantry adviser to the 2nd Ranger Group, Republic of Vietnam Army, Littrell’s battalion was attacked. Several Soldiers, including all of the other advisers were injured. For four days, “Littrell exhibited near superhuman endurance as he singlehandedly bolstered the besieged battalion. … His dauntless will instilled in the men of the 23rd Battalion a deep desire to resist. Assault after assault was repulsed as the battalion responded to the extraordinary leadership and personal example exhibited by Littrell. … Through his indomitable courage and complete disregard for his safety, he averted excessive loss of life and injury to the members of the battalion,” the Medal of Honor citation states.
Retired Command Sgt. Maj. Colin Hargrove, a member of the association, asked Littrell if he would lend his name to the awards dinner. Littrell agreed as long as the dinner/awards program recognized JROTC cadets.
“Command Sgt. Maj. Littrell strongly believes the foundation and strength of our nation starts with our youth,” retired Command Sgt. Maj. Reggie Battle, the chapter’s special projects chairman, said. “So, in keeping with that high standard of military service exhibited by Command Sgt. Maj. Littrell, the association hosts the annual dinner to recognize the achievements of young Americans who exhibit extraordinary leadership and selfless service.
“Members of the association host drill competitions every year at 18 area high schools. We want to recognize these young Americans who are upholding the tradition of selfless service to their nation.”
In Littrell’s honor, the association presents awards to the top cadet from each of the 19 JROTC programs. This year’s recipients of the Command Sgt. Maj. Gary Littrell Medal of Honor Leadership Award are:
Brewer High School – Cadet Lt. Col. Jason Hoopauugh
Athens High School – Cadet Command Sgt. Maj. David Olmedo
Austin High School -- Cadet Capt. Karen Lorenzo
Bob Jones High School -- Cadet Col. Hannalyn Wilks
Buckhorn High School – Cadet Lt. Col. Ethan Barksdale
Columbia High School – Cadet Lt. Col. John Melancon
Fort Payne High School – Cadet Command Sgt. Maj. Seth Chambers
Hazel Green High School – Cadet Lt. Cmdr. Jacob Harris
Huntsville High School – Cadet Col. Jacob Guerriero
James Clemens High School – Cadet Command Sgt. Maj. Wesley Scott
Lee/New Century High School – Cadet Command Sgt. Maj. Jeremy Bally
Madison County High School – Cadet Maj. Mark Allen
Mae Jemison High School – Cadet Lt. Col. Ashley Townsend
Sparkman High School – Jaelyn Davis
As in past years, the top three winners in the drill competition were also recognized. Bob Jones High School took first place, receiving a $500 award from the association. Hazel Green High School came in second and received a $250 prize from Justin Brown of Keller Williams Realty. Sparkman High School took third place and received a $150 award from Gus Moring of Crown Trophies.
“The drill meets are very competitive. Every team does their best, but some of them really stand out,” retired Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Ricky Daniel, JROTC committee chairman who coordinates the annual drill competitions, said.
This year the association added a new presentation, a $500 scholarship for one outstanding JROTC cadet. The association’s inaugural scholarship was presented to Cadet Col. Hannalyn Wilks. Wilks is a member of the Bob Jones High School Air Force JROTC program. The Bob Jones JROTC team participate in the association’s drill competition. The team also has an Honor Guard, Awareness Presentation team, Archery and Marksmanship teams.
Wilks has been a member of the JROTC team for four years. She has served in several leadership positions, including Color Guard commander and Marksmanship Team commander, before advancing to her current position as cadet commander. She has dedicated hundreds of hours to volunteer work and community service, marches in the unit’s annual Bataan Death March, and maintains a 4.1 grade point average, the highest in her class. Wilks plans to continue with ROTC in college and plans to seek a commission as an Air Force officer after she graduates from college.
“This is our inaugural scholarship, and we are incredibly pleased to be able to present it to such an outstanding student who epitomizes the values of leadership, duty, honor and selfless service,” retired Command Sgt. Maj. Willene Orr, scholarship committee chairman, said.