When you think of the 1970s, you may remember some of the most legendary movies and songs but also some of the darker times for Americans. The Vietnam War was in full swing and anti-war protests were about as common as changing your socks.
But, discipline was on its way to the students of Jeffersontown High School, not only to shape students into leaders but to provide opportunities of a lifetime to those who, perhaps, needed them the most.
Many students from Jeffersontown High School in 1971 would never receive these opportunities if it wasn’t for Captain Robert Ebert.
Capt. Ebert was the Military Instructor for Jeffersontown High School’s Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) program for 20 years and one of two instructors selected by the Marine Corps to start this program in the 1970s.
The purpose of any JROTC program is “to instill in students in [the United States] secondary educational institutions the values of citizenship, service to the United States, and personal responsibility and a sense of accomplishment.”
Living in North Carolina in the 1970s, Ebert was on the track to retirement and wondering where his next adventure would be.
An old friend, Col. H.J. Huntzinger, approached Capt. Ebert and asked if he would like to join him in starting a JRTOC Program in Jeffersontown, KY.
“We being marines, we were used to taking new jobs,” Capt. Ebert says. “I figured I could go up and try it out, and if I decided it wasn’t for me, I could go someplace else.”
At that time, the Jeffersontown High School had only been operating for a few years. Col. Hunzinger and Capt. Ebert traveled from North Carolina and spent the weekend exploring and learning about the Jeffersontown community and the school.
“The principal had been a marine in WWII, so they were looking forward to having a [JRTOC] program. Everything went as planned, so we decided to take the job in the summer of 1971,” Capt. Ebert says.
The program needed 50 cadets to enroll to be a successful start. By the first football game, Capt. Ebert had all 50 cadets trained and dressed in uniform performing the Color Guard that evening.
“As the program grew, we had a rifle team, a drill team, color guard and a flag program,” Capt. Ebert says. “The program got continuous exposure through competitions and through the community.”
By the second year, they had more than 100 cadets. But it was much more than just numbers for Ebert. The feedback he received from teachers and parents was more than encouraging.
“The teachers noticed the change in discipline, and then the parents would come in and say they couldn’t believe how much we’d accomplished in the short time we had the kids,” Capt. Ebert says. “They were saying ‘yes, ma’am’ and ‘no, sir’ at the dinner table and being respectful. It was a great feeling to know the program made such a difference in these kids’ lives.”
Now, many years later, Capt. Ebert still stays in contact with several students and mentors the ones who are on their way to graduation and the next chapter in their lives.
“Many of the kids stayed in contact with me through the years,” Capt. Ebert says. “They will call and tell me the program taught them so much about leadership. Even the ones who did not go on to join the service tell me what an impact it made on their lives. I am grateful for that.”
Currently, Capt. Ebert is retired and living in the community. He still serves as a mentor for JROTC High School students in the area.