WAKE FOREST — After she graduates from high school, Brooke Tilton intends to join the U.S. Army in a highly specialized role. She wants to be a veterinarian who cares for military dogs used to sniff out explosives in combat zones.
It’s an impressive career plan for a 16 year old, and Tilton is well on her way: She’s a first sergeant in the Army JROTC program at Wake Forest Rolesville High School.
On Sunday, Tilton got a chance to show her predecessors that America’s Armed Forces will remain in capable hands.
Cadets in the school’s Cougar Battalion presented the colors during an annual Veterans Day service at Stony Hill Baptist Church. Three dozen veterans, each wearing red carnations on their lapels, were honored with songs and laudatory speeches.
But the most powerful tribute may have come from young people like Tilton who gave these heroes a glimpse of the future.
“It’s an honor to represent to them the younger generation,” said Tilton, a Wake Forest Rolesville junior. “Seeing the people who have done their duty, it’s a reminder that our generation is not as aware as it should be.”
For members of the JROTC unit, the service marked the beginning of a project designed to teach them about the experiences of Wake County veterans.
The students will conduct one-on-one interviews and produce PowerPoint presentations to show their classmates what they discovered. It’s part of an assignment led by Col. Dimitri Belmont, the senior Army instructor who oversees 132 cadets in the battalion.
This year marked the first weekend of Veterans Day commemorations since the last U.S. troops left Iraq in December 2011. For more than half of their lives, U.S. teens have grown up in a country at war.
“The next 40 years are going to fall squarely on your shoulders, whether you like it or not,” Belmont told the audience at Stony Hill, singling out young people. “It is up to you to make sure this does not become a third-rate country.”
About one-third of the JROTC cadets at Rolesville join the military after high school, Belmont said, including a few who grew up in military families.
Michael Osborn represents the eighth generation of his family to serve in the Armed Forces. When he joins the Marine Corps, Osborn says, he will not worry about threats waiting for him overseas. From his upbringing and time in the JROTC program, he’s learned a cold reality: There’s a chance he won’t return home.
“If it happens, I’ll know that I’ve done my best,” he said. “I gave my all to protect everyone.”