COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho — A U.S. Army-bound Coeur d'Alene Charter Academy student is working to create a leadership legacy in North Idaho, as reported by our news partners, the Coeur d'Alene Press.
Jayden LaVecchia is a member of the U.S. Air Force's Civil Air Patrol and the Idaho Army National Guard's Youth Pathfinder Academy. Both teach respect, responsibility and discipline with an emphasis on civil service, while giving participants experience, training and a leg up when they head to college.
LaVecchia, 17, would like to see a Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps (JROTC) program be among the local offerings for military-minded youths and those seeking other leadership training and opportunities.
His motivation is simple.
"I love my country," LaVecchia said Thursday.
He said he doesn't want to see the U.S. struggle like it did at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"People don’t know how to lead anymore," he said. "If we want to see our country strong again, if we want to see people lead, and make America what it’s meant to be, we need to start building some reinforcements for our kids to get hands-on with community involvement and learning that they can make a difference."
Coeur d'Alene presently does not have a JROTC program. In 2019, former Marine Corps lieutenant colonel and military father Russ McLain laid the groundwork for the program, which gained some traction, but was stalled by the pandemic.
"All these kids are shooting for an identity, and this is a positive identity," McLain said. "You can get into Yale with ROTC."
LaVecchia has teamed with McLain to raise awareness and generate support for building a local program. The nearest program is the Kellogg High School Marine Corps JROTC.
ROTC programs are not cheap. LaVecchia said in his research, he found it costs $225,000 to get off the ground and $125,000 to run each year. It's usually a federally granted program, but LaVecchia and McLain are working to secure sponsors and local funding sources.
"The feds fund 60%," McLain said. "My job is to go find the other 40%."
ROTC and JROTC were created following the passage of the National Defense Act of 1916. The programming allowed high schools and colleges to bring in military training instructors and funding from a single ROTC organization.
ROTC's goal is to train students for future service in the military. Through JROTC, they're exposed to the demands of military life at a young age.
LaVecchia said they're also considering starting a National Defense Cadet Corps rather than a JROTC. The Cadet Corps is internally funded by schools, but without any financial assistance from the Department of Defense.
"The Department of Defense covers close to 70%," he said. "From the research I’ve done, it doesn’t look like they’re accepting new programs right now, because funding is so stretched out right now."
LaVecchia is planning to present a bill he drafted to local legislators requesting COVID funding in the state budget be allocated for leadership and community-based organizations, such as JROTC.
"It's just a matter of putting your mind to it. Everybody has potential to do something, it's just a matter of getting up and doing it," LaVecchia said.
He said as he became more involved with Civil Air Patrol and Pathfinder Academy, he started to understand there's more out there for youths than just sitting in a classroom.
"I can get out there and I can do things," he said. "If you would have asked me three years ago if I’d be able to read a map, I would have looked at it and said, 'How do I unfold this?' It's a matter of learning to lead yourself. You discover the need to be successful and how to lead other people."
LaVecchia said he is working with Coeur d'Alene High School freshman Ryan Drappo to help lead the program once he graduates and goes to boot camp.
LaVecchia has also been in discussions with Coeur d'Alene School District Deputy Superintendent Mike Nelson for a few months to see if this program is something the district can support. Nelson said timing, student interest and funding are all needed before the program can be established. He said the district would be partially responsible for funding a teacher to lead the program, and the federal government requires at least 100 students to participate for it to get off the ground.
"The only way we’d be able to start a program immediately is to find local community sponsors to say, 'I’m really passionate about this and want to lend some support,'" Nelson said.
He said Coeur d'Alene always has quite a few students who graduate and enlist to serve in the military in a variety of capacities.
"We know we will have interest," Nelson said. "One of the pieces at graduation is to recognize students who have agreed to serve in the armed forces, and that gets the highest accolade of the entire day."
LaVecchia's next move is to check in with area civic and veterans organizations to seek their support.
"The sooner we can get people on board, the quicker we can get that program off the ground and begin serving our community," LaVecchia said.
The Coeur d'Alene Press is a KREM 2 news partner. For more from our partners, click here.