Viera Army JROTC Raider program a huge success


The Viera HIgh JROTC Raiders team practices the Rope Bridge event prior to taking part in the state meet. Viera finished fourth in the team category last year and is hoping for an even better finish this time.

Carl Kotala

Being a member of Viera High’s Army JROTC Raiders team has had a profound effect on a number of the cadets’ lives.

“Raider definitely has helped me in more ways than I can ever imagine,” senior cadet Matthew Baker said.

An extracurricular part of being a member of the school’s JROTC program, the Raiders’ season lasts six months, during which time they train perhaps harder than any athlete in the school. It’s all in an attempt to qualify for the state competition, which Viera has now done for the past six years.

“Personally, I don’t think the teams get the credit in the high school that they deserve,” said retired Master Sgt. Michael Sonnenschein, who coaches the team.

The team competes in events such as the rope bridge, a team 5K run, a cross-country rescue (which is essentially a 120-pound litter carry), a Physical Fitness Challenge (each raider has to carry 10 30-pound sandbags over 250 meters), a tire flip (done over 100 meters for time) and also take a written first-aid test.

“(The rope bridge) is the only technical event we have,” Sonnenschein said. “Everything else, they’re gutting it out. The litter carry with the rucksacks, they’re going a half-to-three-quarters of a mile out and a half-to-three-quarters of a mile back three times a week (during practice). They’re doing their sandbags three times a week.”

While the physical demands are taxing, the cadets who do it not only love it, but they say they also have a lot of fun.

“I was wrestling in middle school, so then I decided this looks hard,” senior cadet Melik Sava said. “I took it up. My first year, I didn’t do well. I didn’t make any team. I kept working really hard and now I’m on the ‘A’ team, which is the varsity level team. I’ve been to states three years in a row.”

Last month’s state competition was the second for Baker, who joined the JROTC as a freshman, but didn’t go out for the Raider program.

“I was a little shy,” he said. “I wasn’t really up for it. Then, halfway through the year, we had a PT assessment for the class and I got the Presidential Fitness Award. I was one of the only cadets to get it and Master Sergeant picked up on my scent. He was like, ‘You better come out for Raider next year.’ ”

Being a part of the Raider program has helped Baker come out of his shell. He and Sava said it also promotes strong leadership and communication skills.

The list of Viera High cadets that took part in last month’s state competition included Sava, Baker, Dalton Fisher, Eddie Vazquez, Bryan Crocker, Joshua Dean, Tristan Alexander, Michael Vega, Andre Kroen, Jason Gerber, Kyle Crocker, Michael Owens and alternates Alec Jones and Alexander Seeley.

Viera went into the state competition hoping to improve on last year’s fourth-place finish.

“The reason we’ve done so well is because of determination,” cadet Sava said. “We all like to win.”