Tuesday, September 08, 2009
Major assumes full command
By Andrea Schoellkopf
Journal Staff Writer
With military programs booming in Albuquerque schools, the city's Junior ROTC now has its own commander-in-chief.
This summer, Maj. Bill Barker the go-to guy for high schoolers aspiring to military academy careers took a new district job overseeing Albuquerque Public Schools military programs.
APS officials hope Barker's new position will allow him to bring to other schools the resounding success he has had at La Cueva.
“With the growth in programs, we need a centralized” command, APS associate superintendent Eddie Soto said, referring to the recent addition of two new high schools and the advent of military-style leadership programs in middle schools like Washington, Ernie Pyle, Van Buren, Garfield and Harrison.
There are about 1,400 Junior ROTC students at Albuquerque's 13 traditional high schools, with five Marine programs, four Air Force, three Navy and one Army program. Barker said he wants to see the Army better represented.
Barker comes from a Marine tradition his grandfather was bayonetted in the throat in France in World War I. Barker spent 25 years in the Marines and another 19 heading up JROTC programs.
He had been the Eldorado JROTC instructor, with La Cueva students coming over to take his class and some transferring schools to be with Barker. The La Cueva principal at the time asked him to come to her school in 1996 to help set up a program, and he transformed the school's auto shop into a JROTC indoor shooting range.
Although Barker said he wanted to start out with 30 to 40 students at La Cueva, 80 signed up the first day.
“It's not just inner-city, hard-core kids that need ROTC,” he said.
While getting kids into the academies and having them become squadron leaders is as exciting as it comes, Barker said, it starts way before that, when the young freshmen join up and maybe march in a State Fair parade.
“A high school with 2,000 students is a big, scary place for a little ninth-grader,” Barker said. JROTC is “a place they can go immediately and have 100 friends.”
Instructors don't discipline their students, but “we teach them to discipline themselves, to become more responsible.”
As the district's longest-serving instructor, Barker has helped to identify retired military members as potential instructors for Albuquerque's high schools. He has coordinated summer programs and camps, drawing kids from around the city, to help recruit and train for high school programs.
And he's made himself available to students in other schools who want extra help for academy admissions.
Former JROTC student James Keith said it wasn't unusual to see students from other schools hanging out in the La Cueva classroom at the end of the day.
“We had kids from Rio Rancho, everywhere from around the city,” said Keith, who is now a freshman at University of New Mexico's ROTC program. “Because of him, I'm looking at a military career. I want to fly helicopters.”
School board member Robert Lucero sent his son, Gavin, then a senior at Cibola High, to Barker when he first talked about joining the military. He said Gavin went to La Cueva after school to work with Barker, and eventually was accepted into West Point.
“I'd like to see some kids from some of the other schools get some opportunities,” Barker said. “That's part of why I'm going” to work at the district level.
While other schools in Albuquerque also have had success getting students into military academies, part of Barker's success is a class that works with juniors and seniors on résumé writing, the application process and essays.
“He prepares his students to be able to meet the criteria and the qualifications for all academies, not just the Air Force,” said Judy Ortiz-Aragon, the Air Force Academy liaison officer and UNM Air Force ROTC recruiter.
She says she is seeing that class being started at other APS schools this year.
Over the last 14 years, 60 of Barker's students have been admitted into military academies, which are among the most difficult to get into.
“He's got huge bragging rights,” Ortiz-Aragon said.
Kara Burd-Walker, whose daughter is a La Cueva sophomore, said she was amazed at the number of people who knew Barker when she chaperoned the rifle team's trips across the country. “The man is an incredible networking tool,” Burd-Walker said. “He knows everyone and everything in regards to this program. The connections he has are boundless. We can't go into another state without someone knowing Maj. Barker.”
Maj. Mark Hendricks, who commands the Naval JROTC program at West Mesa, said the military branches take care of equipment, uniforms and half the salaries, but Barker can help in a lot of the neglected areas, in particular classrooms and facilities.
“He does so much for the quality of the programs districtwide, as well as helping those programs thrive and flourish,” Hendricks said.