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Remembering Bataan: JROTC cadets join Tyndall Airmen on march

Rutherford High School Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps cadets and Air Force personnel from Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., walk alongside each other during the Bataan Death Memorial March on Tyndall April 1, 2017. Over the course of the seven mile march, cadets and Tyndall personnel reflected on the significance of the Bataan Death March where 75,000 Filipino and American troops were forced to march to prison camps in 1942. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Solomon Cook/Released)

Rutherford High School Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps cadets and Air Force personnel from Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., walk alongside each other during the Bataan Death Memorial March on Tyndall April 1, 2017. Over the course of the seven mile march, cadets and Tyndall personnel reflected on the significance of the Bataan Death March where 75,000 Filipino and American troops were forced to march to prison camps in 1942. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Solomon Cook/Released)

A Rutherford High School Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps cadet, ushers on those behind him during the Bataan Death Memorial March on Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., April 1, 2017. During the seven mile march JROTC cadets interacted with 325th Security Forces Squadron personnel giving the JROTC cadets a better understanding of military life. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Solomon Cook/Released)

A Rutherford High School Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps cadet, ushers on those behind him during the Bataan Death Memorial March on Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., April 1, 2017. During the seven mile march JROTC cadets interacted with 325th Security Forces Squadron personnel giving the JROTC cadets a better understanding of military life. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Solomon Cook/Released)

Participants of the Bataan Death Memorial March walk down a running path on Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., April 1, 2017. During the march, 325th Security Forces personnel took time to mentor Rutherford High School Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps cadets on military life and history of the march. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Solomon Cook/Released)

Participants of the Bataan Death Memorial March walk down a running path on Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., April 1, 2017. During the march, 325th Security Forces personnel took time to mentor Rutherford High School Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps cadets on military life and history of the march. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Solomon Cook/Released)

TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. --

During the early Saturday morning hours, when most would expect high school students to be asleep, a group of dedicated Junior ROTC Cadets march abreast of members from the 325th Security Forces Squadron April 1, honoring survivors and deceased service members of the historic Bataan Death March.

The Bataan Death March occurred shortly after the April 9, 1942, surrender of the main Philippine island of Luzon, known as the Bataan Peninsula. Over 75,000 Filipino and American prisoners of war were forced to march 65 miles to prison camps. Not all survived, Although an exact figure is unknown, it is estimated that thousands of troops died during the march.

“The cadets understand the reason for the march,” said retired Senior Master Sgt. Gilbert Garcia, Rutherford High School JROTC instructor. “My teaching partner gave them a history lesson last week. He showed them actual pictures and video from the march, and they were in awe. I appreciate what he did because the cadets now have a better understanding of why they are doing it.”

The event facilitated by the 325th SFS, was part of a two part experience to give enlisted Airmen an opportunity to mentor future leaders, and cadets had an opportunity to learn from their active-duty mentors.

“I received an email asking for volunteers to support the JROTC cadets,” said Senior Airman Aquil Morgan, 325th SFS response force leader. “I’m always supporting new military members. What I suggested to them is to research their branch. If they want to travel, then look into a specific branch and job that allows that. If they want to stay home, look into the guard.”

Mid-march, Morgan used the time with the cadets to pass on his own personal experiences from military service.

“You have to be healthy,” Morgan said, in between deep breaths. “Whatever you like to do to stay healthy you just have to do it. Especially with joining the military, you have to have a healthier mindset. You have to be willing to do things when you don’t want to. You have to keep your mind sharp too, you can’t become lax or complacent, and just accept things as they are. Whether it’s in your job or home life, you have to keep everything in perspective.”

Along with the honoring of the past, the cadets will receive recognition within their unit.

The JROTC headquarters came up with a new ribbon called the Bataan March Ribbon. To earn it, the cadets must march 14 miles. According to the policy, this can be done three ways: 14 miles, two 7 miles, or broken into three categories.

"They must complete the full 14 miles. When they do that they earn the ribbon,” Gilbert said.

For a select few of the cadets, the march had a deeper more personal meaning, as some are currently in their senior year of high school and look to enlist after graduation.

“This will be my third year in JROTC,” said a Rutherford High School senior. “My duties are to help out my unit and motivate other people to do it. I have done 5k’s before, but nothing like this. I am looking to joining the Marines; they have a lot of heart and dedication. Before you make a decision, you have to go in with a purpose. Don’t just do things ’cause your friends are doing it. Know what you are doing and make something of it.”