February 03, 2023

Wyden, Colleagues Question Defense and Education Departments About Reports of Students Forced into JROTC Enrollment

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Ron Wyden and Senate colleagues this week asked top federal officials to answer questions arising from troubling reports of students forced to join the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) program. 

“The actions by schools to make JROTC mandatory are also not consistent with Pentagon guidelines. JROTC instructors told the Times they are ‘creat(ing) problems with discipline and morale,”’ Wyden and colleagues wrote in a letter to the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, Gilbert Cisneros Jr., and the Secretary of Education, Miguel Cardona.

A recent New York Times investigation found “dozens of schools have made the program mandatory or steered more than 75 percent of students in a single grade into the classes,” raising major questions about whether the Defense and Education departments are conducting appropriate oversight of JROTC. These mandatory JROTC enrollments appear to be disproportionately affecting communities of color and already vulnerable students from low-income backgrounds.

“JROTC uniform standards largely reflect those of the military services, and members of our all-volunteer military force are aware when they choose to serve that they will have to meet these standards,” the senators wrote. “But students conscripted into JROTC have no such choice. This forces students of color to conform to dress codes and hairstyles that, in practice, discriminate by race.”

Wyden and colleagues also raised concerns in their letter about reports that some JROTC instructors are promoting the National Rifle Association (NRA) in order to secure grants and sponsorships. Some instructors went as far as encouraging students to join the NRA and volunteered students to participate in NRA. fund-raising events.

“We understand the ongoing concerns about military recruitment, and support programs to address recruiting shortfalls. But the JROTC program cannot help address these problems and uphold its mission to instill ‘the values of citizenship, service to the United States…and personal responsibility and a sense of accomplishment’ if students are forced to participate against their will,” the senators concluded in their letter.

The letter was led by U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. Alongside Wyden, the letter was joined by U.S. Senators Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.

The text of the letter is here.