September 1, 2014

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Longtime Lorain High Army Junior ROTC instructor retiring

Lorain High School Junior ROTC members Otwan Gilbert, 17, Dania Alvarado, 16, Luis Maldonado, 17, and Nelson Laboy, 17, stand with their instructor, First Sgt. Sam Obechi. KRISTIN BAUER/CHRONICLE

Lorain High School Junior ROTC members Otwan Gilbert, 17, Dania Alvarado, 16, Luis Maldonado, 17, and Nelson Laboy, 17, stand with their instructor, First Sgt. Sam Obechi. KRISTIN BAUER/CHRONICLE

LORAIN — Trophies line the walls of the Lorain High School Army Junior ROTC classroom commemorating the unit’s awards, but retiring instructor Sam Obechi said he’s proudest of what his cadets have accomplished after graduating.

Many have attended college or military academies and gone on to successful civilian and military careers, including one Navy fighter pilot.

In addition to color and honor guard duties and drills, cadets participate in after-school activities that include canned food and clothing drives, collecting care packages for soldiers in combat overseas and making nursing home visits.

“We have really good kids,” Obechi said last week. “They’re very dedicated.”

Obechi, 65, joined ROTC, which stands for Reserve Officers Training Corps, in 1994 after retiring from the Army as a first sergeant. Obechi, who grew up in Lodi, Calif., a small northern Californian city, was drafted in 1970 and spent a tour in the Vietnam War as a military police officer.

Later in his military career, Obechi was a recruiter for three years in Lorain. He said a mandatory retirement age for first sergeants that has since been changed forced the Army to discharge him. About that time, the Lorain ROTC unit was being formed and Obechi helped create it.

The ROTC is run by a retired officer with a retired non-commissioned officer second in command. The senior instructor is retired Army Lt. Col. Dennis Owen, hired in 2013. He succeeded Maj. Richard Brown, a longtime senior instructor who retired in 2012.

Mike Ramsey, a 1998 graduate of the program, said Brown and Obechi had a good cop-bad cop relationship with cadets, with Brown in the disciplinarian role. When cadets got in trouble, Obechi would tell them how they needed to improve.

“First Sergeant always took care of us, kept us out of trouble, kept us in line,” said Ramsey, now a sergeant with the Ohio Highway Patrol Milan post.

Ramsey said he and Obechi keep in touch, and Ramsey occasionally returns to speak with students. Ramsey said he spoke with students Tuesday about how mistakes they make as teenagers can make it harder for them to succeed as adults.

Like Ramsey, cadets Dania Alvarado and Luis Maldonado said Obechi has been a good influence on them. They said they like the discipline ROTC has instilled in them, and Obechi’s style.

“He knows when to be serious and when to take stuff lightly,” Maldonado said.

Alvarado said Obechi frequently checks on cadets’ grades and speaks with their teachers. “He makes sure our education comes before anything else,” she said.

Obechi, a divorced father of one daughter and granddaughter, said he plans to spend more time with his granddaughter in retirement. Obechi said he is grateful to Lorain County veterans who have provided money that help buy equipment for the unit and allowed them to travel to competitions.

“It’s been a really great success,” he said as he stared at the trophies. “I’m so proud of these kids.”

Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or egoodenow@chroniclet.com.

Lorain ROTC

  • The Lorain High School Army Junior ROTC is one of more than 1,600 units nationally with about 274,000 cadets.
  • The unit was created in 1994 at the former Admiral King High School and moved to the former Southview High School in 1995 before the schools merged in 2010.
  • The color guard and honor guard have won numerous awards in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Michigan.
  • The Secretary of the Army designated the unit as an “honor unit with distinction” for the 2013-14 school year, the highest award a Junior ROTC can receive. The unit has won the award 19 of the last 20 years.
  • The unit has 186 members this year. Its duties include performing at school functions as well as at ceremonies honoring veterans.

SOURCES: Department of Defense, Lorain High School Army Junior ROTC

  • Bruce Tennant

    Thank you Sergeant