Bradford Murphy, 16, said that he had been looking forward to joining Proviso East High School’s Naval Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps, or NJROTC, since before he enrolled.

“I’ve been in NJROTC for two years,” Murphy, a sophomore at the high school, said during a recent interview. “I joined the minute I started school. I’ve been wanting to go to the military for a long time and this works as a starter program.”

Murphy’s enthusiasm is nurtured by Darryl Person, the NJROTC senior naval science instructor at Proviso East, who has headed up the program for four years.

Person said that, with an enrollment of 205 students, the program is the largest its been since it was started in 2000.

“We do outreach and we make sure the activities and programs are sound, that we’re fun and relatable, and that we have a great rapport with our kids. In many instances, our staff are like fathers and mothers to our cadets,” he said.

“I’ve learned that kids want to know that you care and once they know that you care, they will support you, they’ll participate, they’ll be drawn to your program,” Person added.

The former naval commander has prior experience to attest to the universality of his formula. Person said he came to East from an NJROTC program in East Aurora, where he grew enrollment from 600 cadets when he took it over to 1,000 cadets by the time he left.

The NJROTC at Proviso East comprises a range of activities, including drill team, color guard and orienteering, which are sports that require participants to utilize maps and compasses to navigate from one point to another in diverse and unfamiliar areas, such as forest preserve.

Each year, the cadets participate in a variety of events, such as a military ball and field trips.

“This is a family atmosphere where the kids have a sense of belonging and the opportunity to develop leadership skills,” Person said. “We encourage them to pursue academic excellence. It’s a citizenship program, basically. We’re trying to help them become positive citizens in the community. But we also make it fun.”

This past Labor Day, he said, around 40 cadets took a trip to a naval base in Norfolk, Va. and Washington, D.C., where the cadets visited the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

The constant drum of activities, however, requires fundraising at a near-constant clip, Person said. But the program has even that down to military precision. They often coordinate fundraising campaigns for events or activities that may not happen for months at a time.

This month, the program was trying to raise $5,000 to send cadets to a military ball in Elmhurst that will happen on April 13, 2018.

And then there’s the other, more routine activities that take place throughout the year, including tutoring for cadets, partnerships with area middle schools and an initiative that allows cadets to instruction their fellow cadets, among other activities.

For Murphy, the program all leads to the same end: the cultivation of his individual character through a supportive community.

“I’ve gotten leadership skills and have been able to work with other students who need help under me and to learn a lot from other people who know a lot more than me. I’ve been a lot more social too,” he said. “This program has done a lot for me.”  

For more info on the NJROTC program at Proviso East or to donate, call Darryl Person 773-562-7583.