AF JROTC march photo

The 14-mile march at Piedmont High included: Jake Martinelli, Gina Marcell, MSgt Catrina Colvin, Barbra Funderburk, John Cupp, Effie Bowers, Nicholas Baraby, Katrina Norris, Michael Austin, Connor Thurson, Isaiah Farrar, Olivia Brame, William Zeemer, David Funderburk, Riley McElroy, Michael Pugh, Caleb Moss and Benjamin Wallace.

UNION COUNTY — High school students at Piedmont and Porter Ridge have raised $4,438 for Operation Decisive Victory, a 501©(3) non-profit that supports military veterans nationwide. The donation was presented to the CEO of the organization on Veterans Day (Nov. 11).

Founded in 2018 by veterans in Charlotte, Operation Decisive Victory’s website states the organization “works with government and private institutions to bridge gaps in services that are currently available to our veterans and their families. These gaps are most often delay in services or stringent qualification criteria. We educate businesses, local influencers, and government officials to ensure freedoms, rights and services earned by our veterans are secured and sustainable. In turn, we empower our veterans and their families to reintegrate gracefully back into society.”

The students are members of an Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) program that is a collaborative effort offered by Piedmont and Porter Ridge High Schools. The program is hosted at Piedmont High School. Porter Ridge does not have a JROTC unit, but because they are in the same school district an agreement was made between the high schools.

The 14-mile march was organized by students and held on Nov. 7 at Piedmont High School. Students designed a route around the school buildings, sports fields and a nature trail that borders Piedmont Middle School.

Gina Marcell, a junior at Porter Ridge, said she volunteered to organize it and Jake Martinelli, also a junior at Porter Ridge, volunteered to help.

“It sounded easy at first,” Martinelli said about planning the march; however it quickly became a challenge in planning where the march would take place.

The initial fundraising goal, according to Martinelli, was $2,000, but as students collected more money the goal was pushed higher and higher.

Riley McElroy, a freshman at Porter Ridge, raised $706 — the most out of any cadet. He asked neighbors if they would contribute and said most obliged.

The number 14 was chosen for the amount of miles that were marched. Because the headquarters of Air Force JROTC offers a Bataan memorial ribbon for a program that marches 14 miles in remembrance of the Bataan Death March in the Philippines in April 1942, according to Major Chad Richardson, senior aerospace Science Instructor at Piedmont High School.

Marcell, Martinelli and McElroy shared how being in JROTC has shaped their view of the national holiday that celebrates women and men who have served in the military.

Marcell recently learned that her grandfather was a veteran. Until joining JROTC, she did not realize the amount of work it takes to be in the military. Her involvement in the program fostered a new level of respect for veterans, she said.

Martinelli and McElroy echoed Marcell’s response in saying their participation heightened their sense of respect for veterans.

“It’s already made me view how much work goes into it and much more it means than just they served — it’s more about how much they risked to serve us,” McElroy said.