At the top of his lungs, Raymond Ambs called his battalion from Academy of Richmond County to attention Tuesday at Fort Gordon.
More than 200 cadets from 14 central Georgia high schools stood with their arms fixed at their sides, fingers parallel to their bodies and eyes locked on their leader as they recited the creed for the U.S. Army’s Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC).
Movement was minimal and the tone was serious, but anticipation for the week ahead was evident on the faces of the teenagers from as far south as Swainsboro, Ga., and as far west as Putnam County. They were clearly excited about the team-building skills they would learn and the survival missions they would complete at Camp Semaphore.
Some were already picking their events, taking bets on who could construct the strongest one-rope bridge, rappel a 90-foot tower the fastest and float in water using only a camouflage uniform the longest.
“You are going to be challenged individually and you are going to be challenged as teams,” said Maj. Gen. LaWarren V. Patterson, the commanding officer of the U.S. Army Signal Center and Fort Gordon. “You’re going to be up against some serious competition. Let’s get that out of the way right now.”
Retired Lt. Col. Thomas Murphy, the commander of Camp Semaphore, said cadets will get the full “military experience” during their time at camp, taking on obstacle courses covered in mud, sleeping in Fort Gordon barracks and eating the same Army chow local soldiers have “grown to love.”
But even though the cadets will dive headfirst into the military world, Murphy estimates only 5 percent of the camp’s graduating seniors will be commissioned as officers after high school or college. The modest projection comes even as the Army has pumped an additional $30,000 into ROTC scholarships and increased enrollment into the national program by 1,000 students since 2011.
The new measures are aimed to help recruiters – working in a depressed economy – meet lighter quotas
across all branches of the military.
Murphy said the intent of Camp Semaphore is to produce confident, focused and disciplined leaders.
Representatives at North Georgia College and Georgia Military College plan to talk to the cadets on the importance of school.
Ambs, a rising senior at Richmond Academy, plans to follow in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, trading in the rappel tower he loves to climb for Air Force wings.
“From the fellowship, to the thrill of the challenge, I love everything about camp,” Ambs said. “It’s so diverse. Each experience drives you to be a better person.”
Forty years ago, Patterson joined the ROTC in Virginia. Three years later he graduated high school. Four years after that, he earned a college degree and was commissioned into the Army.
“It went by like lightning and when you look back, it is all going to be a flash to you,” Patterson said. “Enjoy the moment. Enjoy the ROTC.”