Students at the Academy for Academic Excellence made history when the Apple Valley-based school became one of the first in the nation to join the Space Force Junior ROTC program.
Student Carlos Andrade Jr. was one of nearly 140 JROTC cadets who participated in Tuesday’s “activation ceremony” as the AAE converted its Air Force JROTC unit into one of the nation’s first Space Force JROTC units.
“Space Force will allow us to explore a new frontier and open up opportunities in the space industry,” said Andrade, 16, who has been with JROTC for three years.
Due to AAE’s longstanding partnership with the NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory – through the Goldstone Apple Valley Radio Telescope program – Andrade had the opportunity to command a “space-related team” with the SFJROTC.
Goldstone radio telescopes allow Andrade, his team and other AAE students to conduct astronomical research, such as mapping quasars, black holes and celestial bodies, including comets and asteroids.
Tuesday’s ceremony opened the door for AAE to officially become a pioneer in the U.S. Space Force program, the first unit in California and the first charter school in the world to introduce the program, school officials said.
The ceremony was attended by students, AAE staff, members of the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, and officials from the city of Apple Valley.
Other attendees included representatives from county and state authorities, as well as AF Col. John Grimm and Col. Heather Bogstie of Space Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center.
AAE Senior Space Science Instructor Ret. Colonel George Armstrong III told the Daily Press that his school’s JROTC unit and nine others were officially activated as SFJROTC units in May 2021.
The AAE unit is currently led by Armstrong and also Space Science Instructor Ret. Master Sergeant Harold Padua.
To mark the start of the new era, Tuesday’s ceremony included the deactivation of the AAE’s Air Force JROTC unit and the raising of the Space Force Flag or Guidon.
During the ceremony, 10 senior cadets received a gold and blue U.S. Space Force pin, which some say resembles the Starfleet Command insignia from the Star Trek film/TV franchise.
Military officials say the Space Force logo was based on the Air Force design and represents the sixth branch of the US military.
In December 2019, the Space Force Military Unit was formed to conduct global space operations to improve how U.S. joint and coalition forces fight, while providing decision makers with military options to achieve objectives. national, according to the government website.
Junior Air Force ROTC units across the country have been evaluated for schools worthy of transitioning to the Space Force ROTC unit, the school said.
“I want to see opportunities for cadets now and after they leave high school. I want them to go out and be successful in life and this will help them do that,” Armstrong said. “They can see this whole transition and where they can go with it.”
The Space Force JROTC program is not yet defined, according to Anthony “Todd” Taylor, head of the program development division at Air Force ROTC headquarters.
“We anticipate a more defined spatial focus in the program,” Taylor told Air Force Magazine. “The AFJROTC curriculum is approximately 40% leadership, 40% aerospace science, and 20% fitness and wellness.”
Taylor said space will take the lead in aerospace science, such as AFJROTC’s existing space handbook, which covers space environment, space exploration, manned and unmanned spaceflight, space technology , as well as the commercial use of space.
Armstrong said he, Padua and the SFROTC cadets will have the opportunity to create the program, and the cadets will have the chance to “make history and create a legacy.”
In June 2021, the AAE passed the evaluation and was selected to transfer from the Air Force to the Space Force. AAE was selected because of the Lewis Center’s longstanding partnership with NASA/JPL under the Goldstone Apple Valley Radio Telescope (GAVRT) program.
The program gives students access to two Deep Space Network telescopes at the Goldstone Observatory in the Mojave Desert, northeast of Barstow.
“I think this is a unique opportunity that few units have, and I’m grateful that we were given the chance to transition,” said Space Force Junior ROTC Cadet Delta Commandant Antoinette Sardillo. “I feel like the future holds many opportunities and this transition will open up avenues for cadets here to experience and benefit from.”
AAE Principal Valli Andreasen reiterated her confidence in her students and her program saying, “We are ready to be a role model for this program which is leading the way for our students and our school. We have a great commitment and school spirit here. Not to mention our long-standing partnership with NASA/JPL, which helps strengthen our GAVRT program. It truly is a perfect fit as we continue to build on our achievements in STEM and space science.
Space Force Schools
Other schools that have converted to produce the inaugural cohort of high school SFJROTC units include:
- Arlington Career Center in Arlington, Virginia
- Del Norte High School in Albuquerque, New Mexico
- Durango High School in Las Vegas, Nevada
- Falcon High School in Peyton, Colorado
- Huntsville High School in Huntsville, Alabama
- Klein High School in Spring, TX
- Shadow Mountain High School in Phoenix, Arizona
- Space Coast Junior/Senior High School in Cocoa, Florida
- Warren County High School in Warrenton, North Carolina
Space Force JROTC’s goal is to convert up to 100 total units over the next two years, according to Anthony “Todd” Taylor, program development division chief at Air Force ROTC Headquarters, according to Air Strength Magazine.
Approximately 1,200 JROTC cadets, or 1% of the entire AFJROTC program population, will be affected by the change.
“Sky is the limit”
Andrade said he joined JROTC after the death of his father, Marine Corps veteran Carlos Gabriel Andrade Sr. in October 2019.
“I joined because I needed stability and motivation to continue,” Andrade told the Daily Press. “Since then, the program has lifted me from the rubble, connected me with new friends and allowed me to focus.”
Rochelle Arostegui said Carlos’ twin brother Diego, also an ROTC cadet, was inspired and focused on the program.
As a type 1 diabetic, Diego’s career options in the military are limited, according to his mother, who said SFROTC opens additional military doors.
“Because he’s Type 1, Diego can’t be an Air Force pilot,” his mother said. “But with Space Force, his feet may be on the ground, but the sky is the limit for career opportunities. My two sons are over the moon excited.
American Diabetes Association director of legal advocacy Katie Hathaway says it’s pretty much “a mixed bag” and that military service is banned for most people with diabetes, especially those with type 1. .
“It’s hard to see a child’s dreams dashed by a diagnosis of diabetes, and the military is one of the few jobs still off limits to people with diabetes,” Hathaway said.
The Lewis Center operates two STEM-focused charter schools, including AAE, a TK-12th grade charter school, and Norton Science and Language Academy in San Bernardino, a TK-9th grade charter school.
AAE’s mission is to prepare students for success in post-secondary education through relevant and rigorous preparatory education.
Daily Press reporter Rene Ray De La Cruz can be reached at 760-951-6227 or [email protected] Follow him on Instagram @RenegadeReporter and Twitter @DP_ReneDeLaCruz