Usually, bronze is associated with a third-place finish—but that is not case for Cadet Edwin Gray Myers, a senior JROTC student at and recent recipient of the Legion of Valor Bronze Cross for Achievement, which recognizes high school cadets nationwide for outstanding achievement and service.
Myers, 17, has been a member of the JROTC unit at Redondo Union since his freshman year, and said that the Bronze Cross award serves as a positive culmination of his amateur Marine Corps career.
"At first, I was really surprised that I won," said Myers, who learned of the honor in late August. "But thinking about it, it makes me feels like everything I've been doing throughout my ROTC career has been correct. I've learned how to be a leader and the program really has influenced my character.
"To me, it just means that I've been doing my job right this whole time."
The Legion of Valor presents the Bronze Cross to six cadets—one from each of the six JROTC regions across the country. The West coast region includes California, Oregon, Arizona, Hawaii, Nevada and Washington.
Myers, who goes by his middle name, Gray, was selected as the top cadet out of 40 high schools across the West coast states.
"Last year, I was selected as Battalion Commander for our unit, which is the highest ranking cadet," said Myers in reference to why he feels he was selected. "I think that was the first reason. Plus, I've been very involved since my freshman year."
Myers, who served as Drill Team commander during his junior year, explained that at the end of his junior campaign, after he was selected to become Battalion Commander for the upcoming year, he was prompted to apply for the award by Senior Marine instructor, Keith "Gunner" Willoughby.
"Many times, there is no one that qualifies," Willoughby said. "No one meets the criteria for the award. However, Myers was one of our most outstanding cadets. In fact, he is our most outstanding cadet—that's why he's Battalion Commander this year.
"Knowing he was going to be Battalion Commander, I took a look at the rest of his qualifications and saw that he readily qualified for the award," Willoughby added.
Myers began collecting letters of recommendation from his high school instructors, as well as the school principal, and "Gunner" then put Myers' name in the hat.
And once he won, it wasn't only Myers that felt a bit of shock.
"I was surprised when he was selected," Willoughby said. "But one factor that I didn't realize that came into play is we've been selected as a Naval Honors school the last two years. So our candidate would get a higher ranking based on that. But he had a very good record already."
The Redondo Union High School JROTC unit landed in fourth place of the West coast JROTC Marine Corps rankings in 2009, and finished in second place in 2010.
Willoughby maintains that Myers' award is a testament to the forward progress of the JROTC unit at Redondo Union.
"I think it just says that we've been on a progression towards success, to try to achieve the highest level we can for the battalion and the cadets," Willoughby said. "That kind of mindset has carried through to our entire cadet core, as well as the instructors."
Myers, who is currently in the process of applying to the United States Naval Academy, said he plans to follow the path laid out by his family before him.
"My ultimate goal is to become a Marine Corps infantry officer," said Myers, whose grandfather, uncle, and two cousins are in the military. "And afterwards, I am thinking about coming back to a high school and leading my own ROTC unit.
"This award really just shows that I'm ready to move on to the Naval Academy and become a Marine officer."