When Col. Donald Morris, senior army instructor for the Coconino High School Army JROTC, read the first of his students’ submissions for an annual national essay competition, he had a feeling it was a winner.
He was right.
Flagstaff High School’s Cadet Dakota Huggard’s essay was selected as one of seven national winners among more than 1,600 school groups and represents the top 0.4% of the entire Army JROTC program.
“Honor, Duty and Country” was the theme of this year’s contest and allowed Huggard, 17, to showcase his experience as a leader within the combined Flagstaff and Coconino High School JROTC, where he currently serves as a company leader for his class and the captain of the Raiders, an extracurricular team competition.
Huggard described his reaction to winning as “a mixture of a lot of excitement, a little shock and a little nervousness.”
“It is a great honor. I’m very blessed and happy that I won and that I’ve been surrounded by the people who have helped me grow and learn and be able to write an essay like that,” he said.
He thanked his colonel and first sergeant for teaching him leadership skills, his fellow cadets for allowing him to put those skills into practice and his English teachers for instructing him in the art of essay writing.
In recognition of his outstanding essay, Huggard will spend a week in Washington, D.C., this summer with his mother, Colonel Morris and the other essay winners. The group will visit the National Mall and downtown museums and attend two formal dinners with military dignitaries and a wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery.
Huggard said he is looking most forward to seeing this famous monument firsthand, where he can honor the U.S. service members who died unidentified.
When he was an eighth grader at Mount Elden Middle School, Huggard said he first started to develop an interest in the military and found that JROTC was one of the paths to introduce him to such service.
Although JROTC uses the U.S. Army as a model, it is not tied to military service and is open to all students; its mission is “To Motivate Young People to be Better Citizens.”
Morris said this citizenship program helps students develop not only civic skills, but also leadership, communication and practical abilities like first aid, fitness and map-reading.
Next year, Huggard will move from company leader to command sergeant major, where he will be in charge of all companies at the school, a responsibility he will strive to fulfill with the sense of duty, honor and sacrifice he mentioned in his essay.
“Being true to all three and living up to them makes you a better citizen and peer, as well as gives you a more fulfilling life,” he wrote.