Hawaii’s Most Disciplined Teens

The first Waianae Adventure Challenge for Junior ROTC students was a proving ground for the dedication, courage and teamwork that the program teaches

Yu Shing Ting
Friday - March 03, 2006
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Kawika Kahala crosses the rope bridge as Joshua Lupton, Kawehilani Kahala and Garrick Militante (foreground) anchor the rope on both sides
Kawika Kahala crosses the rope bridge as Joshua
Lupton, Kawehilani Kahala and Garrick Militante
(foreground) anchor the rope on both sides

About 200 Hawaii high school JROTC (junior reserve officer training corps) cadets gathered in Waianae last weekend for the first Waianae Adventure Challenge.

The teams, made up of three boys and one girl, got down and dirty as they competed in events such as water crossing, swimming, rope bridging, rappelling, navigating kayaks and negotiating an obstacle course.

“The purpose of this event is to instill leadership in all the cadets,” explains Lt. Col. (R) Don Arakaki, senior army instructor at Waianae High who founded the competition. “It’s to promote teamwork, motivation and camaraderie. You want them to have fun in the spirit of competition.”

Seventeen high schools throughout the state participated in the twoday challenge, including Baldwin, Hilo and Kapaa from the Neighbor Islands. An encampment was set up at the Herbert K. Pililaau Army Recreation Center, and missions were executed in the surrounding hills and waters off Waianae.

“This competition was a vision I had three years ago,” says Arakaki. “Being here in Waianae, it’s a rural area, and there’s this stereotype of crime, drugs, and homeless. So I had this vision to show them that in Waianae we can do something of this nature, to run a state competition.”

To Arakaki’s surprise, various community groups joined forces to make his dream a reality. Private businesses donated food and water, while the Rotary Club, the Waianae Military Civilian Advisory Council, Active Component, the Hawaii Army National Guard, St. Francis Healthcare, the soldiers of Company A 5/14 Cav. 25th Infantry Battalion at Schofield Barracks, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars Women’s Auxiliary and others backed the project.

Retired Lt. Col. Don Arakaki of Waianae High’s JROTC gives advice to Traci Oya, Brandon Ragaza and Mindy Laronal of Kaimuki High

Retired Lt. Col. Don Arakaki of Waianae High’s JROTC
gives advice to Traci Oya, Brandon Ragaza and
Mindy Laronal of Kaimuki High

“The community support has been awesome,” says Linda Naki, an instructor at Campbell High School. “The event was well-coordinated, and it’s great for the kids because there’s a lot of different events that they don’t normally have, such as kayaking and swimming.”

Hawaii’s JROTC cadets compete in various other competitions throughout the year, but they say none compares to this.

“In this competition, I felt a strong sense of fellowship with my team,” says Abigail Perez, a senior airman at Moanalua High (Air Force JROTC). “And more teamwork has been established. I feel closer to the team than before.

“You really have to work as a team. For example, for the rope bridge, you cannot accomplish it at all unless you have total commitment and cooperation from your team.”

Most agree that teamwork is the key to winning, but many of these events also test your physical abilities. The obstacle course itself includes a wall climb, two dips per team member, a hurdle, 10 push ups per team member, negotiating tires, a low crawl and the rope bridge.

“I’m just amazed at the things these young men and women can do,” says Joanne Halsey, who watched the competition in support of her son Jeremy and the St. Louis team (Army). “Just how physically fit and trained they are for these events like rappelling and rope bridging.

“It was Jeremy’s own decision to join JROTC, and it’s been really good for him. It’s helped him to have more discipline, be more organized, and to put priorities in order. And it’s great that my son is learning at a young age that physical fitness is a good part of being healthy. He loves it. It’s a big part of his life.”

And because many of these events are new to the cadets, the girls have equal opportunity to shine.

“I love being the only girl on a team of guys because sometimes they think we can’t do things and I like to prove them wrong,” says Savannah Frank, a senior at Radford (Navy). “But it is all about teamwork. My favorite part of the competition was just getting to know the cadets from the other schools, and just having a friendly competition.”

Stacy Kung and Makoa Doo of Roosevelt climb a 20-foot culvert
Stacy Kung and Makoa Doo of
Roosevelt climb a 20-foot culvert

From the outside, it may look like a junior boot camp - teens in uniform, marching and training in the open field. But these cadets are not training to be soldiers, they’re training to be better people, able to lead.

“Everybody has this concept, this stereotype, that because these kids are wearing a uniform and marching, and the title itself says reserve officer, that we’re trying to recruit them into the military, but that is not our mission,” explains Arakaki, who at Waianae oversees the largest JROTC program in the state with an opening enrollment of 441 students for this school year. “Our mission is to motivate them to be better citizens. We teach them leadership values and social skills and all the values such as responsibility, respect, personal courage, loyalty, discipline, and honesty. The marching and the uniform are some of our tools to achieve our mission.

“For example, marching instills in them to be alert, responsive, and to build up self-confidence and mental discipline.”

Through feedback from teachers and administrators, Arakaki believes their mission is being accomplished. More importantly, it’s the cadets themselves who benefit from the discipline.

“If I wasn’t in JROTC I’d be in lots of trouble right now,” admits Duke Palakiko, a student at Waianae (Army). “They help me with things like staying on top of my academics and my communication skills. I was failing in my classes, and the other cadets helped me study during lunchtime and after school. Also, I enjoy the physical fitness part of it. It keeps me in shape and it’s fun.”

While the primary goal is not to recruit these students into the military, many plan to enlist after high school.

“Being in JROTC and taking part in events like this has made me appreciate what the people in the military do, because it’s a lot harder than it looks on TV, such as the training and the discipline,” says Chris Perossier of Radford, who plans to join the Marine Corps. “It gives you an insight and the preparatory experience.”

“I like how things are run in the military, and being in JROTC has taught me how to be a leader,” adds LTC cadet Adam Rivera of Leilehua High (Army), who plans to join the Air Force or the Army. “It brought out the potential in me.”

In the end, it was St. Louis that took home the trophy as WAC champions, but we can be proud of each of these kids.

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