A rank above: Lanett JROTC instructor awarded teacher of the year

Published 9:00 am Saturday, December 16, 2023

A great army commander inspires his soldiers to be their best selves, and in his fourth year teaching at Lanett High School, that has always been Lt. Col. Christopher McKinney’s goal. This year, for his efforts, he was named the teacher of the year. 

“There are a lot of hard working teachers and administrators on our team here at Lanett High so being recognizned as one of the best is truly humbling a great honor,” McKinney said.

McKinney started teaching JROTC in 2019. He now serves as the senior army instructor at the program. In the last four years, the program has grown significantly and McKinney has had a hand in much of it.

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The program now has an air rifle team, drone club, color guard team and drill team. 

The air rifle team began last year after McKinney and his upper-ranking students joined a nationally-certified marksmanship program to train in shooting. At its start, 25 students were certified to enroll. 

The program, which offers scholarships, competition and the latest in gun safety training, is also an opportunity for students to learn discipline and precision. 

LHS’s JROTC received the latest model of air rifle, the Crosman Challenger rifle, with all-new scopes and accessories to use for the program.

Many of McKinney’s students have also had the opportunity to enroll in summer leadership camps, traveling to Columbus State University. In June, six of McKinney’s cadets proved their skills by being awarded certifications in robotics, one of whom also received the top cadet award from Bravo Company, during a summer leadership camp. 

Three more cadets visited the National Flight Academy in Pensacola, Florida, for a real-world, immersive experience in flight simulation and STEM work. 

“My belief is the more you can expose your cadets to, and then they come back and share it with their other fellow cadets, the more we learn as a group,” McKinney said. 

McKinney’s success comes from seeing his students succeed. In his application for teacher of the year, the JROTC instructor said his philosophy is that “no one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” 

He said he loves knowing that his students get to enjoy themselves as well be challenged physically and academically in or out of the classroom.

“We’re always trying to ready the cadets, especially the ones that are willing,” McKinney said. “And so when those two things come together, then that’s the formula for success.”

After graduating, McKinney received a national four-year ROTC scholarship and earned a degree in business management at Alabama A&M University. He later served as a second lieutenant in the United States Army Infantry.

For 22 years, he would go on to serve in active duty for the army before retiring as a lieutenant colonel in 2017.

However, in 2003, McKinney was stationed at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. For three and a half years, he served as a course coordinator and instructor for the Department of Military Instruction. 

That’s when he decided to further his education and earn his first master’s degree in Public Administration at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY. Five years later, after leaving the academy, he went on to earn a second master’s degree at the Air Command and Staff College.

In 2015, he became a small group leader and instructor for the Air University. 

“I was determined to put myself in a position to have the best opportunity to teach,” McKinney said.