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EAST CHICAGO — In an effort to teach leadership, dedication, teamwork and community pride in high school students, the School City of East Chicago will establish a JROTC program at Central High School this fall.

School and city officials and retired Col. Richard Ligon held a news conference Tuesday to announce the new effort, which they say will build school leaders.

Ligon said the program has been several years in the making. He said he expects about 150 to 200 students to enroll in the U.S. Army Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps program. It is designed for freshmen and sophomores.

"This program is going to break down territorial barriers," he said. "The students in this program will be able to participate with students in JROTC programs in surrounding schools. Once you see these young men and women in uniforms, and you see all of the equipment that's going to be here as a result of this program, you're going to amazed.

"This kind of program prevents crime and it gives students something to focus on. When you see a young man or a young woman in that uniform, you're going to be impressed and they are going to be proud of themselves."

He said the JROTC program also will open up numerous extracurricular activities for students, including a robotics program, an honor guard, drill teams and a rifle team. Some of those teams will compete with teams from across the state, he said.

Ligon said the program is being funded by the U.S. Department of Defense. He said he couldn't say specifically how much it will cost the federal agency. 

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School Board member Stacy Winfield, who graduated in 1982 from the former East Chicago Washington High School, said establishing a JROTC program at the high school has been one of her goals.

"We are struggling with our children everywhere," an emotional Winfield said. "We're bringing together children from everywhere in the community. This kind of program is going to help us bring down the crime."

North Township Trustee Frank Mrvan said the adults are showing students that everyone has come together for one common goal — developing a ROTC program at the school.

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"The Department of Defense was reducing the number of ROTC programs in the United States, reducing them," Mrvan said. "Whatever magic wand or divine intervention that came along ... the people never quit."

Central High School Principal Shaunna Finley and freshman guidance counselor Jacqueline Fuller said they already have began talking to students about the program, and intensive recruiting efforts will begin soon.

Freshman Alberto Longoria-Morales said he moved to East Chicago from Chicago, where there are several ROTC programs in place, and he's looking forward to joining.

"When I heard about it, I knew I wanted to join," he said. "I want to experience the discipline of being in the military. I have family and friends who are in the military. I've talked to my friends here about it, and I think some others are interested in the class."

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Southlake County Reporter

Carmen is an award-winning journalist who has worked at The Times newspaper for 20 years. Before that she also had stints at The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss., The Post-Tribune and The News Dispatch in Michigan City.