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The Lifeline

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Request Permission to Smile

Featured Photo from Request Permission to Smile

I always get nervous when I'm behind the camera to get a cover shot for our magazines, and I was especially anxious this time.

The story was about the South Seminole Middle School JROTC Hurricane Battalion, the only full-time, for-credit, middle-school JROTC class in Central Florida. It's led by Christopher Jackson, a retired Army Chief Warrant Officer III, and he runs the thing like an air-tight, iron-sided ship. The kids in Chief Jackson's program are squared away in the best Army tradition, and that was on full display when art director Heather Loomis and I arrived on campus to get photography for our March/April edition cover story.

Before Heather and I began taking pictures of the full class in action, Chief Jackson gave his cadets specific instructions: don't look at the camera; don't be joking, smiling, and laughing; and don't do anything to embarrass yourself or the program. The kids followed their orders perfectly. A little too perfectly, I was worried.

When the Chief picked several students to go with me and Heather up to the front of campus, where we had set up our cover shot location, I wasn't sure these soldiers-in-training could crack a smile. These are our nation's future leaders. But, fortunately, they're also still really great kids. It took a few moments to get them going – and a couple of reminders that it'd be OK with the Chief – but the young cadets quickly got comfortable with the camera and began enjoying each other's company.

The Hurricane Battalion represents the best of the best at South Seminole Middle School. Leadership is forged there, but so is friendship and the special kind of camaraderie that is shared among those in uniform, whatever their age.

I'm thrilled with the cover shot we got. I think it perfectly tells this story of friendship and leadership. I hope our readers – and the Chief – like it as much as I do.

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