For the first time in 16 years, the Panther Valley Junior ROTC program will be under new leadership; however, for retired Major Kenneth Markovich, his new job is really about coming back to where it all started for him.

He is a proud member of the Panther Valley High School Class of 1984 and a former battalion commander of the JROTC program.

"It's just a treat," he said, "almost a surreal experience to come back here after 25 years and take over. This has been my goal forever."

Although it was 25 years in the making, it was a journey that Markovich ultimately knew he would make.

"When I sat here, I knew I wanted to come back here and teach," he said. His experience in the National Guard makes him what he calls "almost a perfect fit for the job." His own high school experience with the JROTC program allowed him to join the National Guard as a PFC after graduation. While attending Kutztown University, he also participated in the Senior ROTC program, which allowed him to be commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the National Guard in 1990. He served as the commander of the Hometown Armory as a 1st Lieutenant and then moved to a battalion staff position as an assistant training officer.

"Most of my time in the Guard has been as a training officer," said Markovich. "I bring all that training and learning to the classroom.

Markovich's familiarity with the area will also be one of the keys to continuing the excellent tradition of the Panther Valley Jr ROTC program. He lived in the Panther Valley area until his 2005 marriage to Lisa (Stabinsky), when he moved to Pottsville, where he currently resides with his wife and their four children, Angelo, Madison, Makenzie, and Cole. He is also a member of the American Legion Post 316, of Summit Hill.

"I am very familiar with all the ceremonies that go on. I look forward to being intricately involved with what goes on," he said.

Markovich credits the student body and his right hand man, retired 1st Sgt. Steve Caddy, for their help as he transitions into the role vacated by retired Lt. Col. Richard Boston.

"The cadets really make this program," he said. "I question them as to how we do things. Sgt. Caddy has been here about 14 years and he knows all the ins and outs. We all work together as a team to put everything together.

"They are a great bunch of cadets. Their knowledge is outstanding, as is how well they are trained and how willing they are to work."

Markovich also thanked Boston for the excellent outbriefing that he received as he assumed his post.

"My goal is to keep up with the tradition," he said.

There are currently 79 students who participate in the JROTC program, which is an elective course. Markovich surveyed his cadets on the first day of class, asking them if they had a family member, friend, or even knew someone who served in the military.

"Each and every student stood up," he said. "We have a tradition of military service in this area that is about as great as it can get."

Although JROTC is not a recruiting service, its mission statement is "to motivate young people to be better citizens." Markovich hopes that both his military and civilian experiences will help his cadets as they move into life after high school.

"I also try to make it fun for them. I think that's key, you have to make it fun," he said. Markovich himself is enjoying his new role. "It's really nice to be back here, doing something that you want to do. I wake up and look forward to going to work every day."