Karl Knutsen, the East Union High School JROTC instructor for the past 20 years, is stepping down on Oct. 31.
Knutsen has worked at the school uninterrupted since leaving the military in 1996.
Knutsen was raised in Merced but decided he needed a change in his life, motivating him to enlist in the Army. He served for 20 years and reached the rank of Sergeant First Class. At the end of his service, he learned about a “troops to teachers” path that involved a second career in JROTC.
Knutsen liked the opportunity to give back to the community and teach others life skills. He immediately pursued a career in JROTC and landed an interview to work for East Union. His mother and siblings lived in Elk Grove at the time, so working in Manteca was appealing to Knutsen. Three days after his interview, Knutsen was offered the job and he promptly accepted it.
The JROTC program, for Knutsen, is “more than just a class. The curriculum is beyond belief.” JROTC’s official curriculum includes a range of topics including leadership, first aid, map reading, and conflict resolution, to list a few. The JROTC program in Manteca will take any student and counts as an elective or physical education credit. Any JROTC member is eligible for an extra promotion if they join the military.
Knutsen does not push his students to join the military, however. He encourages his students to graduate with high expectations. For Knutsen, JROTC is the “tip of the iceberg.” He hopes his students are involved in other activities to enjoy their time in high school.
“The four years of high school should be the best years of your life” he said.
Knutsen’s favorite part of JROTC is that every year is different. He says that new students have different achievements and find new ways of helping the community. He likes seeing his students turn into leaders and adults. Knutsen has also enjoyed the Manteca community that he says is keen to help one another.
Knutsen looks forward to retirement after 40 years and two careers. He plans to play golf, travel, and spend time with his grandchildren, Lorelai, Levi, and Laniee. Knutsen also plans to look into part-time community involvement.
With retirement around the corner, Knutsen wants each and every one of his students to know that he is proud of them.