By Stafford MSD Communications
U.S. Army Col. Thomas Ehlinger, Ret., started a Veteran’s Day tradition soon after he became the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) teacher at Stafford High School in 2002.
Each Veteran’s Day, Ehlinger and his JROTC students host a Veteran’s Day ceremony at the school.
“We would like to recognize and invite all members of the armed forces who have served or are now serving their country,” Ehlinger said of the event, which will begin at 10:30 a.m. on Friday, Nov. 11. “This is a great program. It gets our students involved, and it allows me to share experiences and hear experiences from fellow veterans.”
The event is a free and open to the public. It will include a luncheon, provided by Stafford College & Career Center Culinary students, and this year’s theme will be “A Patriot’s Heart.”
To RSVP contact Ehlinger at firstname.lastname@example.org or 281-261-6142.
Ehlinger’s participation with JROTC has come full circle since his teenage years.
A San Antonio native, Ehlinger – the son of a World War II soldier who won the Silver Star for Bravery – joined the JROTC at San Antonio Central Catholic High School in the 1960s.
“A lot of the values really influenced me, and it was something I really engaged in,” Ehlinger said. “The JROTC drill team was the epitome of discipline and precision. At one time, we had the best drill team in five states.”
Ehlinger never planned on teaching JROTC, but the opportunity presented itself in Brownsville in 2000, and then two years later in Stafford.
JROTC programs are intended to build leadership skills and character. A few JROTC students enter the armed forces out of high school, but that is not the program’s intention. Up to 15 percent of Stafford MSD’s students are enrolled in the JROTC program.
In college, ROTC prepares students for the military. If they successfully complete the program, they enter the armed forces as an officer.
Ehlinger graduated from St. Mary’s University in San Antonio with a bachelor’s degree in physics and graduated the university’s Army ROTC program to enter the Army as a Second Lieutenant. He was recognized as a Distinguished Military Graduate.
He served for 26 years in the U.S. Army, retiring as a colonel.
During his time in the Army, Ehlinger served as a maintenance officer for a missile system and was stationed in Germany, Kentucky and Alabama – among other places.
He then earned a master’s degree from Florida Institute of Technology in government contracting and military procurement.
That degree proved to be helpful as he was one of the main officers in charge of ordering tents, beds and other necessities in advance of the U.S. Army’s involvement in Operation Desert Storm in 1990.
“I had been preparing my whole life to serve in something like Desert Storm – it was the culmination of everything I practiced and trained for,” Ehlinger said.
After nine months in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, Ehlinger returned to the United States where he was promoted to colonel and retired from the Army in 1995.
Ehlinger, his wife of 46 years, Kathy, and their two children eventually moved to Brownsville – where he had the opportunity to teach JROTC. He arrived at Stafford in the summer of 2002 to start the JROTC program, which only had two computers and four boxes of textbooks at the time.
Now, the JROTC has a classroom and office in the spacious Stafford College & Career Center.
“We have been very well received and supported by the Stafford community,” Ehlinger said.
Ehlinger has started many JROTC traditions at Stafford, such as an annual military ball. He’s also initiated a “Reading Buddies” program where his JROTC students volunteer to read to Stafford Primary/Stafford Elementary students.