Next stop: West Point

Published 10:06 am Monday, June 13, 2016

“The men and women who serve in our military have won for us every hour we live in freedom, sometimes at the expense of the very hours of the lifetimes they had hoped to live.” – Bob Riley, Alabama Governor : 2003-2011

WINDSOR – Two-for-two.

For the second time in his tenure as JROTC Instructor, retired Chief Warrant Officer Randy Cherry has sent one of his cadets from the Roanoke-Chowan area to the United States Military Academy at West Point, NY.

John Erik Taylor, Jr., a graduating senior at Bertie High STEM in Windsor, has become the latest. On June 7 at the meeting of the Bertie County Board of Education, retiring Superintendent Elaine White read a Letter of Commendation on Taylor before announcing to those present of his appointment at West Point.

John Erik Taylor, Jr. (left) receives congratulations from Bertie High JROTC Instructor Randy Cherry and others at Monday’s meeting of the Bertie County School Board where it was announced Taylor will attend the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in the fall. | Staff Photo by Gene Motley

John Erik Taylor, Jr. (left) receives congratulations from Bertie High JROTC Instructor Randy Cherry and others at Monday’s meeting of the Bertie County School Board where it was announced Taylor will attend the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in the fall. | Staff Photo by Gene Motley

Cherry’s first USMA appointment came in 2008 when he was the JROTC Instructor at Hertford County High. Corey Saunders attended West Point from 2008-2012 and is now a U.S. Army Captain serving at Ft. Bragg, NC in the Engineering Battallion.

Appointments to West Point don’t just happen. It requires prospective cadets to receive a nomination from a Congressman, Senator, the Vice President, Secretary of the Army, or Reserve Officers Training Corp (ROTC). Taylor was nominated by both the ROTC and Congressman G.K. Butterfield (D-NC).

“It feels great, a pretty good feeling,” Taylor admitted with a grin. “When I get there it’s a matter of taking advantage of all the opportunities that this will offer and doing everything I can while I’m there.”

Taylor says he had considered several colleges, but after his junior year began to hone in on West Point. After a visit to the site along the Hudson River, he was hooked.

“When I started seriously looking at schools is when I joined ROTC,” he continued. “Right now, my main goal is to take it one day at a time and doing what I need to do to accomplish the mission.”

Cadets who are selected for one of the highest collegiate admissions in the country must, from a leadership standpoint, participate in sports, student government, public speaking and activities like the Boy Scouts with the caveat that the Academy would prefer distinction in a single activity over mere participation in a variety of activities.

“West Point is the best military academy,” Cherry said. “They couldn’t have picked a better cadet. The Army doesn’t know what they have in store for them.

“We knew when he first came (into JROTC) he was special,” Cherry added. “(MSG) Sergeant (Clinton) Hill (JROTC Instructor) and I saw the charisma about him and it just seemed to say that he was a leader in the works. We chose him last summer to lead our battalion because he has what it takes, and he performed well above our expectations.”

Taylor brings a stellar high school resume to West Point. He has participated in the Mathematics & Science Education Network Pre-College Program (MSEN-PCP) and Saturday Academy at Elizabeth City State. At the 2015 statewide MSEN Day math and science competition, Taylor received an award for his performance in the pre-Calculus category.

Though only a two-year participant in JROTC, Taylor rose quickly through the ranks and for his senior year he served as the Battalion Commander for Bertie High School, attaining the cadet rank of Lt. Colonel. He is also the recipient of The Department of The Army Citation for the Superior Junior Cadet Decoration Award presented for the outstanding cadet in the class for the academic year 2014-2015.

Following his junior year at Bertie STEM, Taylor successfully completed the U.S. Army Junior Cadet Leadership Challenge conducted at Fort Pickett, VA where he served as the Alpha Company 1st Sergeant.

“I think he’s a great leader,” Cherry maintains. “You may not see it in him right now, but at the level he’s at, in my eight years, for him to be a high school student with the amount of leadership and desire to accomplish the mission – he has it. With a little leadership training, he’s going to get there.”

Athletically, Taylor finished 3rd out of over 60 runners in the JROTC/ROTC 100th anniversary 5K run held at the Roy Bond, Sr. Stadium Track in Windsor. Taylor was also a member of the Bertie High track and cross country teams, running mostly distance events.

“West Point and the Army have regular tests including a two-mile physical endurance run,” Taylor revealed. “My high school career in track will definitely help me there.”

A former participant last summer in the North Carolina Governor’s Page Program in Raleigh for Governor Pat McCrory, Taylor was provided hands-on knowledge of the function and roles of state government. He says it helped him with his leadership skills.

“My best asset as a leader would probably be my people-skills,” he maintained. “I’m a people person so it’s easy for me to network and engage with people.”

There are some chinks in Taylor’s armor, he admits, but none are above reproach, and he is working to get better.

“One of the things I have to work on is my public speaking,” he insists. “Not that I have trouble speaking before people, but I want to perfect it.

“When you lead cadets there’s a certain level of discipline that must be maintained, and so many activities makes the experience unique, but fun,” he says.

“This is such a great challenge,” says Taylor’s father, John Erik, Sr., himself a 16-year military reservist in the Marine Corps and the Coast Guard. “When you look at cadets as a whole they’re awesome students and awesome individuals. Introducing them to (the military) trains and prepares them to be great citizens. He comes from having served in a great unit of distinction – one of the top-five JROTC programs in the country.”