Kofa High School MCJROTC Lauded
BY CHRIS McDANIEL
YUMA — The Kofa High School Marine Corps Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps — or MCJROTC — is among the top performing programs worldwide.
The cadets, along with Senior Marine Instructor, Major Todd Birney, and Sgt. Major Colin Laarman — both retired Marines — have been named as a Naval Honor School for the third time in the last five years.
This award is earned by about 30 school programs each year, out of about 264 across the globe.
Earning the Naval Honor School title, means that Laarman and Birney now have the clout to nominate cadets for entry into the U.S. Naval Academy, the U.S. Air Force Academy, and the Military Academy at West Point.
Those without this distinction can only recommend acceptance.
The current honor has been awarded for the 2022-23 school year.
The Kofa program has been run by Laarman for the past nine years, with Birney joining in 2017.
Laarman says, that former Yuma Union High School District Superintendent, Gina Thompson, was instrumental in launching the program.
The last award was for the 2019-20 school year — when the COVID Pandemic began.
Birney says, the cadets have been very active after the Pandemic — serving about 28-hundred-hours of community service during the last school year.
And they compete at several regional events.
Laarman says, that means hitting the ground running, as soon as school begins.
The KOFA rifle team — they use pellet guns powered by air pressure — won their second state title last spring, and advanced to the national championships.
Due to its reputation, the program has become popular among high school students.
But not everyone makes the cut.
As a seasoned leatherneck, Birney is hard to impress.
For freshman cadets, such staunch discipline can be disconcerting, at least at first.
Sophomore, Malorie Gomez, says while scared at first, she has bonded with the two Marines.
And, such bonds are strong, says Staff Sgt. Alayna Pallanes, a senior who is now the cadet commanding officer.
“They are tough ... they will keep you in check. But they are very, very enthusiastic, and very, very instructive in everything they do.”
Four years into the program, Pallanes says, joining the unit was a great decision.
“The program is probably the most amazing thing that I've ever experienced. It has taught me so much, and it has gotten me so far. They just push[ed] me out of my comfort zone and taught me to never really give up on myself, or on anything that I do. So, I really appreciate how much this program has helped me.”
And, Pallanes says, the confident woman she is growing into, is a far cry from the freshman she once was.
“As a freshman, I was super shy, and now I am one of the most outgoing people I know.”
And to be clear, the cadets are just as tough on the former Marines – demanding excellence, and nothing less.
The MCJROTC program at Kofa is only available to students attending the high school, and for home schooled students who receive special dispensation.
Chris McDaniel can be reached at 928-317-6077.