By Danielle Nelson
*This article is posted on The Express Times website.
Thomas Kohler, of Palmer Township, seeks support to start an Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps at Easton Area High School. (Troy Strozeski)
Thomas Kohler wants to join the Air Force when he graduates, but the rising sophomore does not want to wait three years to get acquainted with the program.
That’s why the Palmer Township teenager wants to start an Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps program at Easton Area High School.
Kohler said the program focuses on discipline, aerospace science, leadership education and community activities.
He said three to four of his friends are interested in joining the Air Force and would like the program started at the school. Former school board member Timothy Reilly, an Iraq War veteran, also thinks it’s a good idea.
“I think it offers opportunities that are not offered in other courses.” Reilly said.
Kohler said high school Principal Michael Koch told him to seek out community support if he wants to start the program. Koch and Superintendent John Reinhart did not return calls for comment.
Since January, Kohler said he has been trying to garner support for the program. He’s contacted public figures like former heavyweight champion Larry Holmes and school board members.
“Basically, what I want right now is support from people who would support the program and anybody out there who has a local business that would support it,” Kohler said.
School Board President Frank Pintabone said the board needs a recommendation from school administrators before the plan could make it on an agenda for a vote.
According to the Air Force JROTC website, the Air Force provides schools books, computers, equipment and uniforms, for the program. The military covers reimbursement for orientation trips, funds for specified expenditures and up to one half of an instructor’s minimum pay. The minimum pay is the difference between the instructor’s retired pay and the active duty pay.
Kohler said he’s talked to businesses about helping fund the program.
“If the school district decides to start (a program) then I would ask those businesses if I can do a fundraiser with them and that would help get funding for the program and also for the business as well,” Kohler said.
The Easton Area School District considered a JROTC program in 2006. The Advanced Military Aerospace Science Academy charter school was proposed in 2013 but rejected by the Bethlehem Area School Board in February.
The Allentown School District is the only district in the Lehigh Valley that has JROTC Programs. William Allen High School has a Navy JROTC program, and Dieruff High School has an Air Force JROTC program, but only students living in the district can enroll in either program
Although school is out for the summer, Kohler has plans to ramp up his campaign this fall.
“I will get a petition started in school to see what the interest is there,” Kohler said.
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