FAIRBORN — When Jonathan Woodward first approached the JROTC staff at Fairborn High School about doing his Eagle Scout project, there was no way they could say no.
“We didn’t ask him, he chose us,” said Sgt. Chuck Muston. “We can’t turn that down. He asked, ‘What can I do?’ and looked around, and he noticed these pictures on the wall.”
The Fairborn High School JROTC room had an old command staff board that displayed the portraits of JROTC officers and club leaders. It was old, needed to be updated, and Woodward decided he was the right person to get the job done.
But he didn’t stop there.
“We came in, worked with him, got everything he needed, and he ran with it,” Muston said.
Woodward’s project not only replaced the command staff wall, but provided space on the board to show the portraits of national Air Force leadership. He also created a second board to display the photographs of Fairborn JROTC graduates who went on to serve in the military.
It was fun, but “a lot of work,” Woodward said.
Woodward was diagnosed as on the autism spectrum with a moderate cognitive delay at four years old. His uncle, Rob Gast, took him to join the Cub Scouts, and Woodward immediately fell in love with it. His grandfather, Lt. Col. Gary Woodward, served in the Air Force for 41 years, and Woodward is actively involved with both the Boy Scouts and JROTC.
“I couldn’t be more proud,” Gast said. “He’s always said, ‘I want to be an Eagle Scout,’ and there is nothing that could have gotten his way. Just the sheer perserverance and determination that he has shown all the way through, and loving every minute of it.”
Typically, children with autism have a tough time connecting with people and making friends, his uncle said.
Not Woodward. He makes friends everywhere he goes.
“I can’t go anywhere without someone knowing who Jonathan is,” Gast said. “Either from Scouts or from ROTC. He feels like he’s a part of this. He loved Boy Scouts, loved camping, loved doing the merit badges. He just loves the people that he’s with.”
Woodward’s favorite part of Boy Scouts is going to the gun range, but he also enjoys swimming and kayaking.
Gast, an Eagle Scout himself, is the Assistant Scout Master at Troop 167, in Kettering. When the family moved to Fairborn, Woodward stayed with the Kettering troop.
“All the way through all his merit badges, all his way up through the rest of the ranks, I couldn’t begin to thank everyone…it’s been a team effort,” he continued.
Woodward’s Eagle Scout project had a strong focus on leadership. Gast describes Jonathan as a lead-by-example type, showing his peers how to do things rather than explaining, and the students in both JROTC and the Scouts showed up for him on multiple occasions. Scouts volunteered their Saturdays to help. JROTC students showed up to his Eagle Scout presentation, helping him set up and cheering him on.
“The fact that these young cadets showed up today for this is a testament to what’s available to the kids,” Gast said. “It gave him opportunities that he would never have had outside these two organizations. It is a unique experience, but they are very well-meshed in how they work with leadership, teamwork, team building.”
Now that his presentation is done, Woodward will likely have his Eagle Scout court of honor in July.
“I cannot wait to see when he finally gets his Eagle,” Gast said. “His face lights up.”
At his Eagle Scout presentation Wednesday, Woodward’s face lit up again. Muston and Maj. Erik Fricsons, knowing that Woodward was a huge WWE fan, gave Jonathan a gift of their own: a custom championship wrestling belt with JROTC insignia.
“He’s awesome to have,” Muston said. “I come in every day knowing I’m going to get, ‘Hey, Sarge!’ Even if he comes back next year, we’ll always have a place for him.”
Jonathan is considering going to Wright State, and possibly joining the Civil Air Patrol once he graduates.
Reach London Bishop at 937-502-4532 or follow @LBishopFDH on Twitter.