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Jacob Woods Becomes First Birmingham City Student to Serve on Board of Alabama Army JROTC

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Alabama Army JROTC State Vice President Jacob Woods of G.W. Carver High School. (Provided)

By Keisa Sharpe | For The Birmingham Times

Meet Jacob Woods, 17-year-old Cadet Lieutenant Colonel of George Washington Carver High School and newly appointed Alabama State Vice President of the Army Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corp (JROTC), who will oversee approximately 10,000 cadets statewide.

Woods, the first student from the Birmingham metro area to serve on the state officer board, officially assumes his position in mid-June.

“I’m basically a voice for [cadets] when it comes to speaking to some of the people [and] leaders that make the decisions,” Woods said of his new state role, which he had to apply for and participate in an in-person interview.

At Carver High School, Woods serves as Battalion Commander for the JROTC, “[leading] the Ram Battalion [of nearly 200 students], which means I oversee every cadet in JROTC at Carver High to make sure everything gets done,” he said.

“I Wanted to Join”

Woods learned about JROTC when an eighth grader at John Herbert Phillips Academy: “[I saw] a recruitment video about [U.S. Army Black Hawks helicopters], … and I wanted to join.”

He has been in JROTC for three years, while continuing with his regular classes, such as English, Math, and Science, as well as participating in extracurricular activities—Woods is a Ram ambassador, representing Carver High at different events; an assistant drum major; and a member of the Math Club, Honor Society, and Heritage Panel, the latter of which hosts student discussions on topics like discrimination.

He is a dual-enrollment student, which means he takes college courses while in high school. And, with a GPA of 4.138, he is ranked second overall in his class of 150 juniors.

Woods has impressed his military instructors, including Sergeant First Class (SFC) Monica Bell, an Army Instructor at Carver. Bell has given Woods the mission to prepare the cadets for Junior Cadet Leadership Challenge (JCLC), an upcoming summer camp.

“From there, he and his staff will ensure that all the details are completed to prepare cadets for JCLC,” said Bell, who’s been teaching at Carver High for nearly eight years.

Bell explained that the foundation of JROTC includes modeling teamwork and leadership skills, facilitating cadet operations, and coordinating staff meetings and trainings and overall safety mechanisms.

“JROTC is a leadership course, so we are teaching citizenship and leadership. Our mission is to motivate young people to become better citizens,” said Bell, who retired in 2012 after 26 years of service in the Army.

Prior to retirement, Bell served as a Noncommissioned Officer in Charge (NCOIC) over Transportation, Ammunition, and Medics at Fort Moore (formerly Fort Benning), near Columbus, Georgia. Bell, who has been teaching at Carver High for nearly eight years, is married with four adult children: two sons and two daughters.

Jacob Woods (far left) is joined by other cadets and finalists across the state in the bid for position of State Vice President. (Provided)

From Tragedy To Triumph

In addition to taking on new responsibilities as Alabama State JROTC Vice President, Woods will continue in his role at Carver High, which involves “[working] with my team to complete student-led missions,” he said.

Woods takes all his accomplishments in stride, something that is a source of pride for his maternal grandmother, Sharon Woods, who raised Woods and his sister in Birmingham’s Norwood community after a devastating family tragedy.

Woods is very honest about how he’s turned negative situations in his life into triumph at such a young age.

“My sister and I were home when my mother was killed by her husband, who was a Birmingham police detective at that time,” he said.

In 2011, 31-year-old Rodney Wilson shot and killed Woods’ mom, Uteva Woods Wilson, and then shot and killed himself right after. Uteva, also a Carver High School graduate, was 23 years old at the time—her son, Jacob, was 5, and her daughter, Tyreonna, was 7.

Afterward, the children went to live with their grandmother, Sharon, who said, “I didn’t dwell on what happened to my daughter because we can’t change what happened, but I taught my grandchildren to put God first.”

“We went to church. And when you put [God] first, no one can touch you,” Sharon added, noting that she and her family are members of Lively Stone Missionary Baptist Church, where the Rev. Cubby Nunn is the pastor.

“It is truly an honor to be the grandmother of the first JROTC Army cadet in Birmingham City Schools to represent the state of Alabama. I have been blessed by not one but two outstanding grandchildren. Both are on the Honor Roll,” the proud grandmother said of the accomplishments of her “children”—Jacob’s achievements at Carver and Tyreonna’s pursuit of higher education Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University (AAMU), where she is a freshman.

Sharon Woods said she had a foreshadowing of her grandson’s success when he was very young: “[When Jacob] was a small child, his kindergarten teacher, [Cheryl Person at Granny’s Little Angels in Bessemer, Alabama], gave him the title ‘Master Jacob.’ That name is on his school certificates. He has always been a leader.”

Woods considers his grandmother his “hero, in addition to all the people who’ve helped me,” he said.

From left: Birmingham School Board member Jason Meadows (District 9); Alabama Army JROTC State Vice President Jacob Woods of G.W. Carver High School; Birmingham City Schools Superintendent, Mark Sullivan, EdD.; and Darius Davenport, Teacher, Carver High School. (Provided)

Future Aspirations

One of the people supporting Woods is Carver Principal Tikki Hines, who said she admires Woods’ tenacity. “I am truly proud of [Woods’] achievements and the dedication to military excellence that Sergeant Bell has instilled in this young man,” said Hines.

For motivation to achieve his goals, Woods looks to Michael E. Langley, the first Black four-star general for the U.S. Marine Corps.

When Woods graduates in 2025, he says the armed services will be part of his future: “I want to either attend one of the military academies, [such as the U.S. Naval Academy, in Annapolis, Maryland], or participate in an ROTC program at a college or university.”

“I want to be a Marine, but I’m keeping an open mind when it comes to all of the branches,” Woods said.