Top cadet

Westside AFJROTC Cadet Commander Laityn Tippy displays the key to the City of Jonesboro she received over the summer as part of the recognition she earned as the nation’s top AFJROTC cadet.

JONESBORO — Westside Senior Laityn Tippy said if it wasn’t for the school’s AFJROTC program, she’s not sure she would have taken the career path she has chosen.

This year Tippy is the program’s cadet commander who has her eyes set on a career as a pilot in the U.S. Air Force.

“They do not treat us as children; they treat us as young adults. They teach us manners, morals and how to treat people differently than you,” she said.

Tippy said it was the experiences she has had in the program that led her to decide to become a pilot.

“For me personally, it has given me more opportunities to learn about career fields in the Air Force,” she said.

The experience she said impacted her the most was a flight training event Westside cadets got to attend, noting they got to meet the Thunderbirds.

None of the Westside AFJROTC cadets would have had the opportunities they’ve been given if it wasn’t for the program director’s speech to commanders at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Ala.

The program directors began reviewing cost-cutting measures in the 2018-19 school year, and Major Scot Norman, who is the instructor at Westside, said because he was the only instructor, commanders were seriously considering cutting the program. Air Force JROTC rules require programs had to have two instructors.

Norman told Westside high school administrators he would drive to Alabama himself to plead with the commanders not to close the program.

Instructors are usually retired military personnel and Norman said sometimes school districts have trouble recruiting retired military personnel to come to Arkansas.

It turned out, Norman didn’t have to drive to Alabama and plead his case. AFJROTC Regional Director Wayne Barron convinced commanders at Maxwell Air Force Base to give the program more time.

Norman said Barron told him of his impassioned speech to those commanders that resulted in Warren slamming his fist down on a conference desk, shattering the glass.

“We had a discussion that Jonesboro was going to be closed,” Barron said. “I had just had a young man there who had won a Golden Valor award.”

Barron said he accomplished what he what he set out to do.

“Sometimes our regulations, the way they are written, they don’t see the whole program,” he said. “I just wanted to give them a shot. We were talking about schools closing and felt Westside had not had their shot.”

Barron said getting upset and “putting his fist down” was just him being passionate about what he does.

“I know the difference this program can make in these young people’s lives,” he said.

The school eventually was able to gain that second instructor – TSgt. Peter Mamula.

“He came to me and told me he had family in Jonesboro, and he was interested in the job at Westside,” Barron said.

Barron said his impassioned speech simply bought the program the time it needed for God to step in and work a miracle.

Barron said he is satisfied, not surprised, by all the achievements Westside’s AFJROTC has accomplished.

“I just felt something in my gut,” he said.

Despite only operating with one instructor, Westside won the Best Program in the state in the 2018-19 school year.

This year, on Oct. 19, with two instructors, the school received notice they had once again received the honor of being named Arkansas AFJROTC Unit of the Year for the 2019-20 school year.

Westside’s AFJROTC program has also produced the 2019-20 AFJROTC Cadet Leadership Award Winner – Senior Laityn Tippy. Tippy is also this year’s Westside valedictorian contender with a 4.0 GPA, a member of the National Honor Society, Student Council Representative and also a member of Westside’s track and cross country teams.

“I just do everything to the best of my abilities,” she said.

Norman said she is worthy of the accolades.

“She is just phenomenal in every aspect,” Norman said. “Her academics are off the charts, her physical fitness is off the charts.”

Because of the pandemic, Tippy had to miss out on another achievement she was awarded. Tippy applied for the AFJROTC flight training academy where she would have earned her pilot license in a 10-week summer course, but because of the pandemic, it was canceled. It was rescheduled for the summer of 2021.

Tippy also had to miss out on a conference in Washington, D.C., where she would have accepted the award as the nation’s top cadet.

Norman reached out to Arkansas lawmakers to help give Tippy the recognition she deserved. Norman said everyone he contacted responded to his requests. She was invited to lunch by Gov. Asa Hutchison in Blytheville over the summer, where he presented her with a special award, U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton sent her a coin and a letter of congratulations, and Jonesboro Mayor Harold Perrin presented her with a key to the City of Jonesboro.

“It’s a matter of pride to have the No. 1 cadet in all the schools (around the world),” he said.

Norman said he is proud of the program and proud of the all cadets.

Barron said Westside’s success is a reflection of the leadership at the school.

“That whole team has stepped up ...,” Barron said. “I am very proud of the program.”