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MILITARY APPRECIATION MONTH: Gateway High JROTC senior heads to West Point

With dreams to be in the Army Special Forces, Gateway High School senior Justin Rodriguez is starting off his military journey by heading to West Point military academy.
Posted at 8:30 PM, May 08, 2024
and last updated 2024-05-08 20:30:01-04

GATEWAY, Fla. — May is Military Appreciation Month and it's a time to honor not only the service, but the sacrifice people in our military make. Southwest Florida has strong ties to the Armed Forces so all month long, Fox 4 will bring you stories about active duty service members, veterans in our community and the military's next generation.

These are the men, women and families who give so much every day for our country.

Some are not in the service quite yet. Some are making plans to join the military, like high school senior Justin Rodriguez.

He's part of the JROTC program at Gateway High School, one of 15 Lee County schools with this program. Retired military instructors teach students leadership skills and self-confidence.

For Rodriguez, it's more than just the discipline.

"As a kid, I just always loved learning about military history, the Army and all of that stuff," he said. "I used to just spend hours learning about WWII and stuff like that."

Gateway high school JROTC
Gateway HS Senior Justin Rodriguez explains the ranks in the program. He is a Cadet Lt. Colonel and was accepted to the prestigious West Point Academy.

He eventually moved to Fort Myers his freshman year where we joined the program and quickly made his way up in the ranks. Rodriguez is now a Cadet Lt. Colonel.

"From there I pretty much focus on three different class periods mainly throughout the day," Rodriguez said.

While he juggles classes at Gateway High School, he also has dual enrollment at FGCU and he organizes the JROTC program.

"Most of what I do is actually attending meetings, planning things, making sure things are running smoothly," Rodriguez said.

Gateway HS JROTC
Gateway HS JROTC cadets practice teamwork in a variety of tasks ahead of the Raider Challenge.

He participated in the Raider Challenge, a competition with other JROTC programs. Being part of the high school program is more than just a high school activity.

"I know for sure I want to be in the Infantry," Rodriguez said.

The senior wants a job in the Army as a ground troop. But first, he will go to West Point.

It's a prestigious military academy where only 1,200 students are selected each year out of thousands of applicants.

Eventually Rodriguez wants to apply for Special Forces.

"There's so much stuff that I want to do like, I really just like to just know leaving that I know that I made an impact," he said.

Like the impact so many others in his life made on him.

"There are so many people. Obviously, my dad. He's pushed me for West Point," he said. "My mom has supported me every step of the way."

Gateway High school jrotc
Gateway High School JROTC Program

The senior also says his instructors have played a big part between answering his questions and helping him get to this point.

With graduation right around the corner, Rodriguez says he's more than ready to put on the Army uniform and do what he's dreamed of since he was that young boy — learning and dreaming about the military.

"I feel like my drive is just — I just want to help and do the best that I can for those around me," Rodriguez said.

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