MISSION COMPLETE: EHS Overmountain Cadet Corps finish restoration project in Gatlinburg

Published 5:58 pm Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Photo Contributed    The Elizabethton High School branch of the East Tennessee Overmountain Cadet Corps visited Gatlinburg and helped with restoration.

Photo Contributed
The Elizabethton High School branch of the East Tennessee Overmountain Cadet Corps visited Gatlinburg and helped with restoration.

“A human instinct to help other people”
It’s an instinct Scott Whitmire is all too familiar with. The Elizabethton High School SRO with the city police department stated the high school students in the East Tennessee Overmountain Cadet Corps were able to exude that trait recently by assisting with restoration in a fire-devastated area within Gatlinburg. The Cadet Corps is in its first year at EHS while being implemented three years ago for county schools.
“That’s what our cadets wanted to do,” Whitmire, creator of the program, said. “They want to help out in some way, form or fashion.”
Before taking the EHS students down, Whitmire and county students part of the organization were able to help out in a distribution in Gatlinburg going through items — thanks to working alongside Volunteer East Tennessee.
“I had already been down once with the county cadets,” Whitmire said. “I offered it to our city cadets and they were more than willing to help.”
With the thought of working in a distribution center in the back of his mind, Whitmire said “You don’t know what you’re going to do when you get down there.”.When the 10 students arrived on scene, they were asked to do waterway cleanup in a small stretch of a river and work with AmeriCorp.
“It was a small stream,” Whitmire said. “The students cleaned up the material that burned off into the stream … metal, wood, … trees fell over and the stream was near a home that was damaged from the fires.”
Hours of cleanup ensued and the workload produced surpassed expectations with the cadets working to retrieve 3,000 pounds of material out of the body of water.
“I couldn’t have asked more out of the kids,” Whitmire said. “It was slick, muddy conditions but the cadets kept working. It started to rain and we had to tell them to stop. We had cadets making steps to help transport the material out, fireman-carry style … AmeriCorp was shocked and appreciative about the amount of work they were able to accomplish.”
The ability to take part in a project of that magnitude meant a lot to senior Chandler Lewis, who joined the program during its inaugural year.
“I come from a military family,” Lewis said. “My father served 22 years in the National Guard and swapped to active right before he got medically discharged. His father served as well. This is just a passion of mine and I plan on enlisting as soon as I get out of high school.
“When this opportunity presented itself, I knew I had to jump on and be part of it,” he continued. “It is a pride thing for me, really. I tried to get one started in middle school for this program … it didn’t really get rolling so when I heard about this, I knew I had to help get this going.”
Seeing the devastation from the wildfires brought a passion out of Lewis and the rest of the students.
“Watching the devastation on TV, I was glad to go down and help,” Lewis said. “Everybody in this area has just about gone to Gatlinburg. It’s a childhood memory and seeing it burnt to the ground is a depressing thing. It was exciting to do something hands-on. I would say everyone was hardworking, ready to go and do what they could to help. We got a lot more done than expected.”
The East Tennessee Overmountain Cadet Corps experienced success at the county level and since its implementation at EHS, the results have been quickly shown, according to Patrick Roberts, geometry teacher and sponsor for the program.
“We’re still trying to feel it out,” Roberts said. “We average 15-20 during the week. It is pretty awesome. We met yesterday for PT and there’s kids that have grown leaps and bounds in their work. It’s impressing on what these kids are doing. One of the main goals is to be assertive,” Roberts said. “There’s a military structure, but we want our students to serve the community and have pride in what they do.”
The program is broken up into two divisions, military and business. Whitmire stated the students are working toward instituting their own programs, including local cleanup of the Tweetsie Trail, state parks, working with veterans locally — just to name a few.
“I had one gentleman tell me all he needed was an opportunity,” Whitmire said. “and he’s one of the students that came up with a project to help clean up the trails locally to help the community.”
Providing structure and life lessons is what the program is all about, the founder added. Students are asked to write a letter before joining stating what their goal is following graduation.
“I ask them what they would volunteer for, what’s their goal,” Whitmire said. “That’s the direction we’ll go for their career. I don’t want to influence them into a job that it is all about the money and they’ll be miserable. It’s about doing what you like, and the money will fall. I’ve been in a position on where I’ve been able to make money and been miserable. That’s not the motivator, it shouldn’t be about the money.”
Developing life schools and being proactive continues to stay true for the program, which is still accepting students during the school year.
“We’re from this ‘Volunteer State’, just volunteer,” Lewis added with a smile to encourage students to join.

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