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NJROTC detachment begins its climb

For the first time in Franklin County High School’s history,
the school is taking part in the Navy Junior ROTC program.

Still a fledgling group, the 15 or so members, largely
underclassmen, are part of “detachment Eastpoint,” a satellite of the existing
unit at Wakulla County High School.

Superintendent Steve Lanier, himself a retired Navy commander,
was instrumental in working closely with Wakulla Superintendent Robert Pearce
in getting the program off the ground.

The Navy, which funds a portion of these JROTC program,
require a minimum number of students, which would be well beyond what FCHS
could hope to attract in its first year.

To enable this detachment, the new program hired retired Navy
Lt. Cmdr. Tony Cowart, freshly retired, to take the reins.

Set to retire Sept. 1, Cowart had been out looking in the spring for
several opportunities in the private sector, and the school district jumped at
his  application, assigning him to the NJROTC command post as well as a spot
teaching in the construction trades program.

“Franklin County was the first one to get back to me,” he
said, noting that he would later receive other offers but he stuck by his word.

“I had already signed a contract,” Cowart said. “I made a commitment
to this job because they were willing to make a commitment to me.”

As a detachment, the new program relies on regular teaching visits,
usually Tuesdays and Thursdays, from two members of the Wakulla County faculty Capt.
Bradley Martin, the senior naval science instructor there, and Master Sgt. Robert

“Part of that detachment means they need to see the senior
naval science instructor. These are essentially the runners of the program,”
said Cowart. “I am a face here at Franklin County High School, part of a bigger
team if you will.”

As a young person whose family moved around a lot, his
father an engineer, Cowart has roots in Palatka, as well as Tennessee and in

After his high school graduation, he went on to the University
of West Georgia. Following graduation in 2001, he went on to Officer Candidate
School and was given the rank of ensign.

As a naval flight officer, Cowart tracked submarines from a
P-3 Charlie Orion aircraft, working in the fuselage of this four-engined,
turboprop anti-submarine and maritime surveillance aircraft, dropping buoys in the

Deployed six times over 20 years, in seven US states and 20
different countries. Cowart and his wife Jill, a teacher at the Franklin County
Schools, are now settled in Carrabelle, together with their four daughters and
one son.

Cowart has been chipping away since coming onboard a couple
months ago, and so far has amassed a core group of 15 students, two of them

“By the end of the first year, if we’re above 20 we’re doing
OK,” he said. “I am hoping we can be pushing 40 to 50 in four years but we’ll
see. It’s really up to the students honestly.”

“We’re still so new into this, we’re still in our infancy
stage,” Cowart said.

For those planning a military career, a stint in NJROTC can
give them a leg up, but recruitment for the military is not the program’s primary mission.

Data shows that among 583 NJROTC units in the country, and the roughly 75,000 cadets who take part, a large slice of them will enter the military, with a significant number of them either earning ROTC scholarships or entering a service academy.

“There are varying degrees of why they’re here, and some of
them understand that this will help out in the military,” he said. “The purpose
of the course is good citizenship.

“I ask them ‘What exactly do you want out of your high
school experience or post high-school experiences?’” Cowart said. “What we’re
going to do is work on the tools that will allow you to be successful or be more
efficient at what you do. We’re trying to teach them what you do in a place of

“It’s a student-driven course. The students themselves need
to want to buy in,” he said. “There’s nothing I can do if they don’t want to.

“I tell them they are not signing on the bottom line, not
committing to go to war,” Cowart said. “My job is to provide them with tools,
with a way forward, and my tools are the Navy’s core values.”

The unit has debuted a color guard, which has so far
appeared at football games, and will be front and center at St. George Island’s
Veterans Day ceremonies.

Cowart said that with each passing day, more students are showing
interest, and working on ways to incorporate the NROTC program in with extracurricular
activities or after-school jobs.

“This is the very, very beginning of climbing Mount Everest,”
he said. “It’s going to take a minute.”

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Meet the Editor

David Adlerstein, The Apalachicola Times’ digital editor, started with the news outlet in January 2002 as a reporter.

Prior to then, David Adlerstein began as a newspaperman with a small Boston weekly, after graduating magna cum laude from Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. He later edited the weekly Bellville Times, and as business reporter for the daily Marion Star, both not far from his hometown of Columbus, Ohio.

In 1995, he moved to South Florida, and worked as a business reporter and editor of Medical Business newspaper. In Jan. 2002, he began with the Apalachicola Times, first as reporter and later as editor, and in Oct. 2020, also began editing the Port St. Joe Star.

Wendy Weitzel The Star Digital Editor

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