GUYTON — South Effingham’s NJROTC program has dropped anchor atop a wave of success. It routinely dominates Area 12 competition and consistently fares well at the national level.
Area 12 features 60 NJROTC units in Georgia and North Florida. There are 600 units nationally.
“Basically, we do four things,” said Lt. Col. Terry Stautberg, the school’s senior naval science instructor. “We have a drill team, a rifle team, an orienteering team and an academics team. Last year, we won (the area championship) in rifle, we won it in academics and we finished second in drill.
“Our orienteering team finished ninth out of the sixty.”
A drill team is a marching unit that performs military-based routines. A rifle team tests marksmanship and orienteering features competitive navigation using a map and compass.
South Effingham recently took its Area 12 rifle domination to a new level.
“A team consists of four shooters,” Stautberg said. “I actually had two teams go to the championship and we finished first and second. I’ve never had this good of a team.
“They’ve set school records.”
South Effingham’s academic team has performed even better. It is the defending national Brain Bowl champion. The large trophy the cadets received for winning the title is on display in Stautberg’s office.
“We won it in 2019,” said Stautberg, head of South Effingham’s NJROTC program since 2005. “Last year, they didn’t have anything (because of COVID-19). We were going to defend it and they were looking good for it.”
Stautberg’s expectations for the Brain Brawl team haven’t diminished since it claimed the national title.
“We have been undefeated the last two years,” he said. “They’ve finished first in every meet they’ve been in.”
The 2021 Brain Brawl will be conducted virtually. The original plan called for a trip to San Diego.
The national drill team, rifle team and orienteering events will be virtual this year, also.
South Effingham won an Area 12 drill team event in Florida on Jan. 9 and placed fourth at the Area 12 Orienteering Championship at Hard Labor Creek State Park in Rutledge.
“It’s so wonderful that we have done everything (at the Area 12 level) this year,” Stautberg said. “We have gone to actual competitions. We haven’t done anything virtual.”
Brain Brawl participants are asked questions about subjects featured in the NJROTC curriculum, including art, music, language arts, math, science and social studies. Johnson has worked with Stautberg for 13 years.
“We always compare it to ‘Jeopardy’ but it’s focused on NJROTC stuff,’” Stautberg said.
Brain Brawl participants are guided by AZ1 Ross Johnson, He has worked with Stautberg for 13 years.
“We’ve kind of got it cranking right now,” Stautberg said. “We won the Most Competitive Unit Award last year and we are probably going to win it again this year.”
Stautberg said South Effingham’s 28 senior cadets expect to be successful in their events.
“It’s all about how good you can get your seniors because they spend their entire senior year teaching the underclassmen,” he said. “It really is about one class passing it on to the next one. My focus every year is flat out the seniors.
“Other students will say I favor the seniors. I’m not favoring them. I’m working with them the hardest because they are actually teaching.”
South Effingham cadets travel to competitions most every weekend throughout the school year. Frequently, Stautberg and Johnson are at different locations to supervise. Some of the events are quite far from home.
“We usually do about fourteen overnights a year,” Stautberg said. “That’s fourteen times that we are spending the night in a hotel somewhere.”
Stautberg said South Effingham’s NJROTC teams wouldn’t be successful without the support of the Effingham County Board of Education and school administrators.
“To do this, you have to have money,” Stautberg said. “The biggest chunk of it is for the transportation that the school district provides. That’s what lets us be competitive and that’s not normal.
“There is no doubt that we have it better here. (The school district) gives us transportation. (The school district) gives us the stuff we need to compete at a high level. You can’t just (compete) here.
“You have to travel across the state to be competitive.”
The cadets’ parents also contribute to the cause through fund-raising efforts. The U.S. Navy backs the program financially, too.
“Regretfully, with everything shutting down, the military hasn’t traveled and we’ve benefitted from that,” Stautberg said.
NJROTC isn’t just for students with a military career in mind. Its mission is to instill the values of citizenship, service to the United States, personal responsibility and a sense of accomplishment.
“We only have about fifteen percent of the kids go into the military,” Stautberg said, “so our focus is, ‘Do they have a plan when they graduate?’ It’s great to go win trophies and go do all the stuff, but all we are trying to do is teach those skills that you need in the workplace — to show up on time and to pay attention to details.
“If you put in extra effort, you will receive more results.
There is an additional benefit for the cadets who join the Navy.
“The biggest benefit they get is — if they do enlist — they get paid more. They get early promotions,” Stautberg said. “The breaks down to several thousand dollars a year in increased pay with early promotions.”
The community as a whole benefits from NJROTC, Stautberg said.
“I really feel like the kids we have on our teams are the ones that parents would want their kids to hang out with,” he explained. “It’s not because they are top tier in academics. It’s because they are just good kids.
“We wouldn’t travel with them like we do if they weren’t great kids that you can trust. We don’t have problems.”
Stautberg said the cadets’ dependability is one of the things that keeps him and Johnson excited about South Effingham’s NJROTC program.
“We enjoy the kids,” Stautberg said. “The kids are absolutely a trip.”
“They are eager to please,” Johnson added.