Students in Atholton High School's Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps Raider Battalion are known for their distinction.
Principal ConnieLewissaid the group personifies traits that go beyond education - values, politeness, understanding of rules, warmth and safety.
"I can't put it into words - just a great bunch of kids," she said.
And last month, the students received a score of 98.1 of 100 for their formal inspection, earning the coveted "Honor Unit With Distinction" that is awarded only to the top 10 percent of JROTC units of 1,370 in the nation. The inspection occurs every three years and examines all aspects of the organization, a process that requires extensive preparation, rehearsal and drills by the cadets.
The 111 youths in Atholton's JROTC range from freshmen to seniors. They are taught and mentored by Lt. Col. (Ret.) Robert Thomas, who calls them a "great group of young adults."
Thomas said he hopes the program instills values such as responsibility, initiative, respectfulness and a sense of community responsibility.
"It's our hope that the cadets will be motivated to be active participants in their communities, their schools," he said.
Their activities during this school year indicate Thomas' hopes are being realized:
A Christmas food and clothing drive collected more than 1,700 items that were donated to Sarah's House, a shelter at Fort Meade.
Cadets and National Honor Society members visited and danced with elderly residents at Harmony Hall during the SeniorSeniorProm in April.
Upbeat letters have been written to U.S. military personnel overseas who may not otherwise have received mail. Quite a few cadets have received correspondence in return.
The Color Guard has participated in many school occasions and events.
The JROTC program is an elective in high schools. It does not require military service. The curriculum covers such subjects as leadership, citizenship, physical education and communication.
The curriculum is sequentially designed to build on development at each grade level and cultivate self-esteem, discipline and teamwork.
Thomas said he doesn't want his cadets to be apathetic - he believes they can make a difference.
Eighty percent of Atholton's JROTC students go on to college.
In two years, six cadets have received ROTC scholarships, and three have attended West Point or the Navel Academy.
Cadet Jeff Berman, a junior who has been in JROTC for three years, is planning to go to college.
He said he likes the program's curriculum because it "is pertinent to everyday life."
The communication training is beneficial and he uses it frequently in his classes, the cadet said.
Jeff's first few days in JROTC were a bit uncertain: "First thing Colonel said was to get a haircut." And he said to himself, "This is going to be more serious that I thought." But after initially being anxious, he began to enjoy himself.
Cadet JacindaElliott, a freshman, also was apprehensive, but she had heard Atholton's program was a good one so she signed up. Her grades in middle school had been mostly C's and D's, but she has made the honor roll for the past four quarters at Atholton.
JROTC "made me determined to do well in school," Jacinda said. She hopes to receive a college scholarship.
As the school year comes to a close, the cadets are receiving end-of-year ribbons and rank. Ribbons are awarded for achievements such as making the honor roll, participating in athletics and performing community service. Cadets earning awards line up in the JROTC classroom, its walls filled with pictures and trophies.
"Kids pursue self-esteem through achievement," Thomas said. He said enjoys sharing his skills and knowledge with the next generation, and he has high hopes for this group.