Developing independence in high school students has been the work of Master Sgt. Dishon Gregory for six years.
It resulted in his winning the title of “Best of the Best” teacher from Maricopa Unified School District in May.
The Air Force sergeant began instructing Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps at Maricopa High School a few months before retiring from the military in 2011 after 22 years of service.
“I look at these (cadets) and I treat them as if they were my own kids,” Gregory said. “Whatever advice I would give them, I would give to my sons.”
Gregory and his wife Valerie have two children, David, 21, and Ahmad, 13. His sons haven’t yet aspired to follow in their father’s footsteps, Gregory said, but he doesn’t expect them or all his AFJROTC students to join the military.
“I tell all of my cadets, ‘You want to make me proud? You want to make me happy? Graduate.”
Many of them have gone on to exceed expectations.
In May, MHS student and AFJROTC Cadet Capt. John Blodgett received prestigious appointments to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and the U.S. Air Force Academy, eventually deciding on West Point.
Not one to take all the credit, Gregory said he taught Blodgett the basics, “but it had to start with him; he had that drive.”
The AFJROTC program currently has 126 cadets. Gregory has taught over 1,000 of them during his tenure at MHS.
Rising in rank this year is Corps Commander Dylan Hill, a senior at MHS. She joined AFJROTC as a timid freshman.
“(Sgt. Gregory) helped me a lot to become more open, socially,” Hill said. “He’s given me a lot of opportunities to work on my leadership skills, and because he’s given me opportunities to do so that’s why I’m corps commander.”
Gregory instructs cadets in drill team, color guard, life skills and public speaking with additional classroom components including quizzes and discussions.
The MHS assignment is not the first instructor position for Gregory.
Early into his military career Gregory served in operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm for combined tours in 1990. After deploying to Qatar for Operation Southern Watch, he took a special duty assignment as a technical training instructor for the Air Force in 2005.
After assignments at Pacific Air Forces Headquarters in Pearl Harbor and the 15th Airlift Wing, and another deployment during Operation Enduring Freedom, he transitioned to teaching high school students.
“I used to be an instructor; I used to be in Honor Guard, so that’s right up my alley,” Gregory said.
Not surprisingly, his philosophy in the classroom is one backed by years in the service.
“As a planning and scheduling individual, I’m able to lay things out and train them and so I get enjoyment out of teaching and instructing and making that person or people independent and better than myself,” Gregory said.
Lt. Col. Allen Kirksey, AFJROTC senior aerospace science instructor at MHS, described Gregory as “one of the finest non-commissioned officers I have met.”
In October, Kirksey nominated Gregory for the Smart/Maher VFW National Citizenship Education Teacher Award, a national accolade that will be decided by mid-November.
Gregory won the same award in 2014.
“His dynamic and mature handling of difficult decisions and situations has earned him the respect from cadets, peers, parents, administrators and the community,” Kirksey said.
This story appears in the November issue of InMaricopa.