ROTC teaches cadet life lessons

RIO HONDO — Abraham De Leon has used the lessons he’s learned at his school’s Air Force JROTC program to climb toward the top of his graduating class at Rio Hondo High School.

Now, he plans to use them to work toward a college degree — and maybe a military career.

“It’s getting me ready for the real world,” said De Leon, 17, the son of Arturo and Betty Ann De Leon of San Benito.

For four years, he’s followed in the footsteps of his big brother Alex, who served as a cadet before going on to a career in the Navy.

“He always told me good things about it,” De Leon said. “I’ve learned a lot — how to socialize more, leadership, taking charge. If I go into the military, it will help me out.”

De Leon said the program has helped him on his way toward graduation.

“It taught me to be on time with all my things,” he said. “I never turn in work late. When others need help, I like to help them. I aim to be at the top of my class.”

The program’s core values have helped forge his character.

“Integrity before self, leadership in all we do,” he said. “I like to take full responsibility.”

As the program’s deputy group commander, De Leon’s learned leadership traits.

“I’m kind of put in charge,” he said. “I really like giving orders. I’m in charge of keeping the corps together, keeping everyone in check and organizing events.”

As a member of the color guard, he’s proud to carry the American flag.

“It means a lot,” he said. “It’s a symbol of honor, respect and pride. It reminds me of all the people who served our country and one day I might want to serve my country.”

Now, De Leon’s president of the Interact Club, a community service program in which he’s led trash pick-up drives and beach cleanups.

“I want to set an example through leadership,” he said.

De Leon’s also in charge of the Jetty Hawk Air Society, a tutoring program which gives him a chance to help other cadets.

“If anyone needs help, I can tutor in math and science,” he said. “Every day, I’m learning new things. I’m getting ready for college.”

Soon, he’ll be taking his lessons to Texas State University, where he plans to study architectural engineering.

Later, he might enlist in the Navy.

“I’ve always been interested in the military,” he said.