New DHS JROTC instructor believes in educating future leaders

Sgt. Maj. (ret.) Kenneth Petty believes he has a purpose in teaching youth.

Daleville High School JROTC has a new instructor this year. Sgt. Maj. Kenneth Petty spent 28 years on active duty in the U. S. Army. After retirement, his friends encouraged him to seek public office and many other different avenues. After much thought and speaking with his pastor, Petty decided he wanted to be part of educating youth. He put in his application for a teaching job and “trusted God.” Petty received a call from Daleville City Schools very quickly. After a year and a half of retirement from active duty Sgt. Maj. Petty returned to duty, but this time it was as a teacher.

“I honestly believe there is a purpose for me being here,” Petty said. “I really believe the kids are our future. If we don’t take time to educate our kids about how to be future leaders, they won’t be future leaders.”

Petty is passionate about education.

“I am an advocate for education. I always tell the kids never say college isn’t for me until you try it. Go to college first,” Petty said. “If they want to go active duty, I do not side Army verses Air Force. If your interest is the Air Force, I will do everything I can to get you in the Air Force. If your interest is Army, I will do everything I can to get you in the Army. I will call people, go with you to meet people, I make the contacts you need, as long as you make a continuous effort. I will always tell you try education first. We have a lot of students thinking about joining the National Guard. They can join the National Guard and go to college. Guard will pay for all your college if you do the right thing.”

Petty has a passion for the Army, education and children. He wanted to find employment that was fulfilling and made a difference. For Petty, JROTC was the perfect combination.

“It was something I loved doing. I was a drill sergeant. I love it. I really enjoy getting up in the morning. I have no issue coming to work every day—I love it. I love coming here and interacting with the kids and the faculty,” Petty said. “I think what drives me is (students) are our future and this is where our future lies. I tell them, ‘You guys are our future so if you guys don’t get it done, we are in trouble.’”

Petty encourages students to spend time on core subjects—reading, math and science.

“I try to harp on reading, math and science. If you do not comprehend those three things you are going to be lost. I try to get them to read 15 minutes per day. For math, I tell them to pretend everything is money. Me, I don’t think I am that good in math, but I can add dollars. Whatever you got to do, to relate it to you, then that is what you do,” Petty said. “With so much technology now, science is not like science when we went to school.” 

Petty was complimentary of students at Daleville High School. He believes the students that excel at technology are a step ahead.

“Things are moving toward science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). We are headed in that direction and I think that is a good direction,” Petty said “I tell kids, if you have a cell phone you have a computer. The same thing I can do on the computer, you can do on the cell phone. It was a lot different when my kids went to school in Washington and Texas. That was only five years ago. School has changed now, it is more technology-based vs being more reading and hands-on based with me.”

Petty is seeing a bigger push toward robotics with the possibilities of a robotics course becoming a part of career technology classes in Alabama high schools.

“Some schools in Alabama are doing a test pilot with robotics. I think that is a big push. Also, electronic security is the direction a lot of things are going. If we get the kids at ninth grade level to start thinking about robotics, coding, electronic security and along that line, then they will be more prepared for it when they get out of high school,” Petty said. “It is coming, I just don’t know when across the board. We have some kids here that would thrive in that area.”

Petty is encouraged by the enthusiasm of the students this year.

“The JROTC students are a lot more energized this year. We are getting outside of Daleville. We took the rifle team to Smith Station to compete.  We won first, second and overall first place shooter,” Petty said. “That was a big deal for the students because they haven’t ever gone anywhere. The cadets felt good about that. Last week Col. (ret.) Teresa Townsend and I took the cadets up to Eufaula. Our JROTC Leadership and Academic Bowl (JLAB) took first place and our color guard took third place and overall, we took third. I think that JROTC is getting to be fun again.”

Petty said more trips are planned to begin with a leadership conference in December.

“After Thanksgiving break, we have the JROTC Alabama Joint Leadership Development Conference. We will be going to Birmingham Monday, Dec. 9 and coming back Tuesday, Dec. 10. They will get to meet JROTC state representatives,” Petty said. “We are turning in three applications for cadets to be state representatives. We are hoping we can get one or two on the state representatives. On that level it will expose them more to JROTC in the state of Alabama verses just the Warhawk Battalion. Col. Townsend is the president of Alabama JROTC. If our students are chosen, they will get to tag along with her to meetings. They can go as state reps.”

Petty sees his position with DHS JROTC as a dream job.

“I look at this as a dream job. This is an opportunity I get to play a small part in shaping our leaders of tomorrow. That is the way I look at this job.”

Petty said while you can’t always reach every student, it is worth the effort to try.

“I have some that you just can’t reach them … they may be good today, they may be good tomorrow, but they always sway back to that, ‘I don’t want to do this’ attitude. I have a lot of them that you can tell are excited. A student ran up to me yesterday excited to tell me that she got accepted to the University of Alabama. Those are the days that you say yeah it is a good day, that trumped whatever I had bad that was going on.”

Petty believes in treating students with respect and talking about issues before the problem escalates.

“Most importantly I treat them all with dignity and respect. I don’t put my thumb on them and hold them down. I had rather talk before I send them over to an administrator,” Petty said. “If they are having a bad day, I encourage them to talk about it. If they are not participating, all I see is that they are not participating, but if they come talk to me and let me know the situation then I can understand the situation and make a decision accordingly.”

Petty assists Col. Townsend with the team instruction.

“It is just me and Col. Townsend, so we tag team. I was a drill sergeant and I have some experience with drill. I help her out with drill team, color guard, PT team, rifle team, she does the JLAB. We just tag team. Whichever has more knowledge and experience takes the lead,” Petty said. “Technically, she does the color guard, drill team and JLAB. I have sole ownership of the rifle team.”

Petty is an Ozark native. He graduated from Carroll High School and attended Troy University. He went on active duty in 1992 until his medical retirement in 2018.

During his service he was a medic and he became a master fitness trainer, earned his expert field medical badge, and was airborne and air assault.

“I swung out of helicopters and did all the fun stuff,” Petty said.

Petty was inducted into the prestigious Audie Murphy Club, a rare achievement for a medic, and he is a member of O2M3 the Order of Military Medical Merit-AMEDD regiment.

Petty said that he ran the range during his active duty, and he was deployed to various places.

“My last deployment was in Africa in support of the ebola outbreak in Liberia. I supervised all medical labs that were on ground. I oversaw nine Army labs and two Navy labs that were testing for ebola,” Petty said. “Before that I was in Iraq for a detainee health operation. We managed the hospital that only treated captured detainees. Our unit hospital oversaw the care of the prisoners. That was a hard job to do. We did it, but it was hard.”

Petty said that retiring in 2018 was the hardest thing he ever had to do.

“I wasn’t ready to retire, but I had to retire. My body couldn’t take it anymore. I had several surgeries as a result of all that fun I was having. When I got older it caught up with me. I couldn’t run and jump anymore so I had to take medical retirement,” Petty said. “I was trying to do 30 plus years. I loved it so much, I think they would have had to kick me out. But I got injured and I could not do what was required of the soldiers to do.”

Petty is looking forward to the future of JROTC.

“They are looking at implementing JROTC in the middle school. They want career tech to start in the middle school,” Petty said. “I am excited. I really look forward to coming to work every day, really look forward to it.”

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