Navy to close Issaquah High ROTC program

July 26, 2011

By Tom Corrigan

Despite what local officials termed an aggressive attempt at promoting the program, the Navy announced July 18 that it plans to “disestablish” the Issaquah High School Navy Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps unit.

Students can continue in the program through the coming school year. But along with 28 others nationally, the local ROTC will be formally shut down effective June 30, 2012.

The JROTC program at Liberty High School should not be affected.

“The NJROTC program has a strong tradition and I am disappointed that the Navy has announced its disestablishment,” Issaquah NJROTC Cmdr. Larry Artman said. “We have been working hard to increase our enrollment, but I understand the significant budget constraints facing the Navy.”

Because the Issaquah unit was failing to meet enrollment standards established by the Navy, the unit was placed on probation earlier this year. According to Sara Niegowski, executive director of communications for the school district, local officials believed they had several months to increase enrollment in the program to 100 students, or 10 percent of the overall school student population.

There are 73 students in the Issaquah JROTC presently.

“We believed that we had until the October 2011 student count to try to raise our enrollment numbers, and we embarked on a community campaign to spread awareness and grow the unit,” Issaquah schools Superintendent Steve Rasmussen said in an email sent to students in the program.

Both Rasmussen and Niegowski said the district would be in contact with Navy officials during the coming year to try and earn Issaquah’s JROTC a reprieve. But both also indicated that might be a long shot.

“We understand that the Navy has budget constraints and we must ultimately work within its parameters,” Niegowski said. “At this point, with a disestablishment letter in hand, that’s what we must plan for unless we hear otherwise.”

A Navy spokesperson did not return phone calls.

Niegowski said announcement of the disestablishment had not garnered much reaction in the first few days following that announcement. That may change. Several graduates of the program contacted The Press to express their disappointment with the Navy’s decision.

During her high school days, Elissa Finklestein transferred from Skyline High School to Issaquah High specifically to take part in JROTC. With a bachelor’s degree in public relations and a minor in tourism, Finklestein now happily works for a winery in Woodinville. She said she would not be where she is without her JROTC experience.

“It taught me so much,” Finklestein said, talking mostly about pride and confidence in herself as well as self-discipline. Other graduates of the program echoed some of her comments.

“I was a really awkward teen,” Jessica Murray said.

She said the JROTC unit provided her with a place to feel safe and make friends, friends she still has today. Murray even met her husband in the JROTC program.

“It’s kind of hard to explain,” Murray said, “but ROTC makes you realize you don’t have to settle.”

Niegowski said the local JROTC program has been in existence for about 40 years. At one time, the district’s three largest high schools each had their own individual units. When the Navy first put the Issaquah High unit on probation, students currently enrolled in the program expressed nothing but support.

“We’re not going anywhere,” insisted JROTC cadet Daniel Fine.

Fellow JROTC member Taylor Stone said joining the unit was the best decision of his high school career. He said he enjoyed helping with security at school football games and directing traffic around the region.

“It’s cool to be out behind the scenes and working with police,” Stone said.

The school district lost its JROTC program at Skyline High School after enrollment there dropped to 16. Liberty’s program was once part of the Issaquah High unit, but was split off in 2001. Students currently enrolled in the Issaquah High program ultimately might be able to transfer to the Liberty unit.

“In the meantime, everyone — your principal, your NJROTC instructors and I — are committed to making the coming school year a great one,” Rasmussen said in his email.

Tom Corrigan: 392-6434, ext 241, or Comment at

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One Response to “Navy to close Issaquah High ROTC program”

  1. Marina Ellis on August 5th, 2011 6:51 am

    In addition to Elissa and Jessica (whom I know many years because of NJROTC), I was in the program for 4 years and I agree that I would not be the same person I am today without it… I am very dissappointed to hear that it will be cut and hope the other students have the opportunity to transfer to Liberty High School in the coming years. It just makes me feel so horrible because I know how important it was for me in high school being someone who didn’t quite fit in anywhere, and JROTC was the one thing I could count on to fit into and I wish that the students at Issaquah High School had the same opportunity I had, because it was life changing.
    <3 The unit will be missed dearly

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