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Pooler Magazine

Nakyla Neal Alongside New Hampstead High School’s JROTC Program

Story by Katrice Williams • Photos by Shelia Scott

Character, Leadership, Commitment “Be the kind of leader you would like to follow.” ~Gordon Tredgold

The Junior Reserved Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) was officially established as a result of the National Defense Act of 1916. Sponsored by the U.S. Armed Forces, JROTC is committed to instilling invaluable life skills within young people, including “leadership, discipline, self-confidence and patriotism.”

The New Hampstead High School (NHHS) Air Force JROTC Program has been a tremendous asset to the school since its inception in 2012 when the school first opened. Whether students aspire to obtain a military or civilian career, the program persists to help develop tomorrow’s leaders today. It is currently led by Retired U.S. Air Force (U.S.A.F.) Major Kelvin Oxendine, along with Retired U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sergeant Marvin Palmer. Major Oxendine served in the U.S.A.F. for 23 years prior to retiring. Afterward, he taught ROTC at the Citadel in Charleston and later moved to Charlotte where he taught high school JROTC prior to recently accepting his current position at New Hampstead as the JROTC Senior Instructor.

Whether traveling the world and meeting new people or even receiving a free education, the Major is grateful for all the opportunities he earned due to his U.S.A.F. service. “I’m glad I did it. I highly recommend it to all high school students,” he said. In addition, Major Oxendine encourages students to learn more about the JROTC Program to see how it may be of benefit to them. He, too, is happy with the program’s tremendous growth over the past semesters, going from 49 students last semester to 81 students currently enrolled.

“I love my job; I love the kids here. I’d like to see our doors overflow with kids coming in … kids that want to be here, want to learn and want to have fun. We’re teaching leadership, accountability and responsibility. If they want to go to the military, we help them. Our focus is not to get them into the military; our focus is to teach them life lessons … to get them ready for the next part of [life],” he said.

Many cadets are able to see the advantages of the program. Cadet Sergeant Eady, a 3rd semester JROTC student, reveals that he values “the friendships and bonds” that he has made. Also, Cadet Airman First Class Thomas notes that she appreciates that “respect and a [positive] attitude” is consistently encouraged and expected. Cadet Airman Basic Reed states that the program has “helped [him] to become an even better person.” Further, Cadet Technical Sergeant Florin, who aspires to pursue a U.S. Army career, feels that the skills that she has developed will be a tremendous benefit in her career. “I’ll use my leadership skills to work with my team,” she said.

The program strives to take a holistic approach with its students in order to help them develop into well-rounded citizens. It presently offers cadets several extracurricular activities, including Color Guard, Drill Team and Raiders Team; the teams have the privilege to perform at various events and compete with other high school JROTC teams. Actually, the Raiders Team is very popular amongst many cadets. The team competes against other local units in highly physical competitions; proper training is required, as endurance, strength and a truly competitive spirit are essential.

Cadet Colonel Nakyla Neal, a Savannah native, is a senior at NHHS and a 6th semester JROTC student. She is one of the highest-ranking cadets in the unit. In fact, Nakyla served as the Cadet Commander last semester—the highest position in the unit. It is awarded to one exceptional cadet each semester that has displayed exemplary leadership skills and remarkable character traits throughout their tenure in the program.

Indeed, the apple does not fall far from the tree, as Nakyla’s dad Michaele retired from a successful Army career. She grew up within a military household; Savannah was her dad’s “last duty station before he retired.”

Nakyla is very appreciative for the unwavering love and support from her family. Her dad Michaele and mom Angela, both originally from North Carolina, are two of her biggest role models. She is immensely grateful that they taught their children to “always work hard and to appreciate everything that God blesses them with.” She is also thankful for her big brothers Michaele II and Naki, along with her older sister Tequeaka. Naki, who had been a JROTC student at Groves High School, was a huge reason that Nakyla decided to join the JROTC program.

“I joined it to see what it was about. I liked it, so I stayed; it has been awesome. I’ve always liked it … the military aspect of it [and] the leadership,” she asserted. She, too, will always remember one of her biggest influences--her loving Aunt Pam Mallory--who passed away last year after enduring a courageous battle with breast cancer. Nakyla has proudly and humbly “stepped up” as a “big sister” and mentor to her aunt’s daughter (her little cousin) Karlee; Nakyla would certainly not have it any other way.

Nakyla has enjoyed the opportunities that she has been afforded through JROTC, including the community service activities. The JROTC group has done a lot of good within the community over the years. Whether visiting senior citizens at a local nursing care center or participating in “Pack House” where cadets pack lunches for underprivileged kids, cadets have been able to experience, first-hand, the value of giving back and the genuine pride attained from sharing in responsibility for the well-being of their community. Nakyla and the group recently participated in a large-scale community cleanup on Tybee Island that was filmed by PBS for an upcoming television documentary. The opportunities have been memorable for her, especially visiting the senior citizens’ nursing care center some time ago.

“I’m hoping that we can start that back up again. That was nice—just going and sitting down talking to them because some of them never have a person to talk to,” she said. Further, Nakyla was the NHHS Color Guard Commander during her sophomore year; she is also proud to have become part of school history after joining the wrestling team this year. “Another cadet before me was the only female on the team; I wanted to go ahead and try. Right now, training is tough, but I like being part of our first [coed] wrestling team. Girls wrestling is not something you see every day,” she stated.

Future opportunities are limitless for the extraordinary young lady. Following graduation, Nakyla endeavors to join an ROTC Program in college, allowing her to later begin a successful military career as an officer. Family, friends and school leaders are aware of Nakyla’s potential. More so, Major Oxendine feels that Nakyla has an array of noteworthy attributes, enabling her to accomplish whatever she sets her mind towards.

“She has patience, an eagerness to learn and an eagerness to lead. She is soft-spoken, but she is heard and can get her point across. I think the biggest thing is her dedication to the program … her loyalty,” he mentioned.

Nakyla encourages other young people to follow their hearts and to relentlessly strive after their dreams. “Be the best that you can be throughout life; be successful. If it’s in your heart, go for it.”