Photographs and text by Ellen Kok
Netherlight, Linschoten, 2013. 128 pp., 72 color illustrations, 9½x6¾".
Signed copies available to order!
“Try, Try, Never Die, HOOAH!””
Many students of Fall Mountain Regional High School in Langdon, New Hampshire, begin class with that yell every day, sometimes delivering it in military uniform. They are cadets in the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, JROTC, a U.S. Army-sponsored program. Its goal is not to turn children into soldiers, but to motivate them to become better citizens by teaching them military values Americans admire: service, honor, skill and leadership. Military techniques that challenge the students, both mentally and physically, are used to improve their self-esteem and give them a better grip on life.
For many students, this is precisely why they seek out the elective course. They come from broken households, several don’t live with their parents anymore, and some already have adult responsibilities: a full-time job, a baby. The class offers them camaraderie and the structure, direction, and security that is often missing at home. But many of the cadets also come from families with a military tradition and they often express their desire to follow that path themselves.
Curious about the place of the military in American culture, Dutch photographer and writer Ellen Kok followed the cadets for over two years. What do marching in formation, doing push-ups, shining uniform buttons, firing air rifles and addressing each other with “Sergeant” or “Captain” do for young people? Does it help them to cope with the challenges life throws at them, at home and in school? And will the Wildcat Battalion manage to keep its gold star of Honor Unit with Distinction?
A long written story by Ellen Kok accompanies the photographs and carries the reader into a classroom in a poor region of the USA, and into the hidden lives of American teenagers.