Firing a last salute at the funeral of Edward Bedard, a Marine veteran of World War II, at St. Mary’s Cemetery in Claremont, N.H., are, from left, Jasmine Tenney, Trevin Kmiec-Grenier, Jeremy Barnett, Trevor Towsley, Shawn Taylor and Matt Fuller. (Ellen Kok) The Color Guard practices for the Army formal inspection. From left: Jenna Lanou, Bruce Willets, Trevor Towsley and Chris Leoutsakos. (Ellen Kok)
To a foreigner, the United States’ military might is a defining national characteristic. But how does that express itself in everyday American life?
That’s what Dutch photographer Ellen Kok sought to investigate when she spotted a group of uniformed teenagers — cadets in a Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) program at Fall Mountain Regional High School in Langdon, N.H. — at a parade in 2010. She ended up spending more than two years with the group, documenting their routines, rituals and training regimens.
There are 314,000 cadets in more than 1,700 JROTC programs across the country. Many of those cadets, including some of the young men and women Kok captures in her book “Cadets” (Netherlight, 2013), go on to serve in the armed forces, but a better sense of citizenship — not recruitment — is the goal of the program.
Though they can cut quite imposing figures in their uniforms, ultimately, Kok’s cadets are not simply made out to be miniature warriors. Rather, her frequently unguarded, often humorous photographs are primarily a look at the lives of teenagers — prone to the same joys and growing pains as young people anywhere else in the world.
“‘Cadets’ is not only about kids in uniform or the influence of the military. It is also about American small-town daily life, traditions, culture, relationships, the importance of family, community and team work,” Kok said via e-mail.
In the school bus on the way to a Veterans Day service at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center are, from left, Shawn Taylor, Forest Randall and Codi Amsden. (Ellen Kok) Dalton Hunkler, left, and Riley Sabol go through inspection of their Class B uniform, which is used for less-formal events or when it’s warm. (Ellen Kok) The Norwich push-up is one of the cadets’ favorite physical training exercises, especially when done with the whole group. (Ellen Kok) The commander of the JROTC unit, Jeremy Barnett, has a tattoo completed at his mother’s house. (Ellen Kok) Chris Leoutsakos, center right, and his girlfriend, Bethany Bordeau, attend the Military Ball. (Ellen Kok) Jenna Lanou, a member of the marksmanship team, shoots during a match. (Ellen Kok) Cadets have to mark their initials in their dress shoes so they know which are whose. Another cadet had already used the initials JB, so Maj. Cenney came up with an alternative and made these drawings in cadet Josh Baker’s shoes. (Ellen Kok) Ariel Moore, 17, and her 6-month-old daughter, Libby, live in Ariel’s parents’ mobile home with her younger brother and sister. (Ellen Kok) Riley Sabol is seen in the girls’ barracks at Army training site Camp Ethan Allan during JROTC Cadet Leadership Challenge (JCLC) summer camp in Jericho, Vt. (Ellen Kok) The JROTC funeral detail folds the flag for presentation to the family while giving full military honors at the funeral of Edward Bedard, a Marine veteran of World War II, at St. Mary’s Cemetery in Claremont, N.H. (Ellen Kok) Riley Sabol’s laced shoes during drill practice. (Ellen Kok) Cadets from seven schools in New England march through the fields after kayak and land navigation training at the Winooski River at the Green Mountain JCLC in Vermont. Eight cadets from Fall Mountain participated in the summer camp. (Ellen Kok)