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Pinellas Park High School gets Coast Guard JROTC program

There are currently only two other Coast Guard JROTC programs in the nation.

Pinellas Park High School is getting its own Coast Guard Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program.

The program, announced by Rep. Charlie Crist, D-St. Petersburg, on Wednesday, will be the third Coast Guard JROTC program in the nation.

Pinellas County is home to 1,000 “Coasties.” The nation’s largest Coast Guard Air Station is located in Clearwater.

“We have the Coast Guard right in our backyard,” said Pinellas County Schools Superintendent Dr. Michael A. Grego. “We thought, ‘well, why not? Let’s just put in a request.‘”

The program’s creation at Pinellas Park High School was first formally proposed by Crist in September 2019.

Previously, establishing a Coast Guard JROTC program required an act of Congress. This year, a provision in the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act authorized the creation of Coast Guard JROTC programs in high schools across the country.

County officials estimate the program will enter a planning phase beginning Fall 2020 and accept students in Fall 2021 for the following academic year.

In addition to hiring JROTC instructors, advertising courses and recruiting students, Grego said the county has the added task of navigating the uncertain school year ahead.

“We could use the time, with everything else going on,” he said. “Starting a JROTC program doesn’t happen overnight.”

The county will split the costs of hiring instructors with the military. Instructors will be paid active duty salaries according to their rank.

The Coast Guard JROTC program aims to teach leadership, citizenship, and nautical science to high school students. Graduates of the JROTC program are not required to serve in the military.

“A very small number of (JROTC students) actually decide on active membership in the military, and for those who do, that’s great,” said Grego. “But what the program contributes along the way is tremendous.”

This will be Pinellas Park High School’s first JROTC program.

All divisions of the U.S. military operate JROTC programs, with the Army hosting over 1,700 programs in high schools nationwide. Unlike other divisions, the Coast Guard has no college ROTC program.

The two other Coast Guard JROTC programs in existence are located at the Maritime and Science Technology Academy in Miami and Camden County/CamTech High School in Elizabeth City, North Carolina.

Grego said the county hopes not only to expose students to post-secondary career options with the JROTC program, but to teach them “attributes of the military.”

“(JROTC students) carry themselves with dignity,” he said. “It adds to the culture and climate of any high school. That’s why we strive to get these programs –– and when we get them, we hang on to them.”