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Cadet performances inspire at 17th annual West-Mitchell drill meet

Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps cadets march in unison at the West-Mitchell Invitational Drill Meet hosted by the 161st Air Refueling Wing at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, Feb. 20. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Charles Wade)

Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps cadets march in unison at the West-Mitchell Invitational Drill Meet hosted by the 161st Air Refueling Wing at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, Feb. 20. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Charles Wade)

Members of the 161st Air Refueling Wing color guard inspect a Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps color guard during the West-Mitchell Invitational Drill Meet in Phoenix, Feb. 20. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Charles Wade)

Members of the 161st Air Refueling Wing color guard inspect a Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps color guard during the West-Mitchell Invitational Drill Meet in Phoenix, Feb. 20. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Charles Wade)

PHOENIX -- Canyon Springs High School won the overall championship title during the 17th annual West-Mitchell Invitational Drill Meet hosted by the 161st Air Refueling Wing here Feb. 20.

The annual contest included more than 400 Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps cadets from 20 high schools competing in eight different drill categories. The competitions included inspection, armed and unarmed regulation, color guard, and armed and unarmed exhibition drills.

The cadets' overall appearance and bearing were closely inspected. Judges also questioned cadets on their knowledge of military history and ranks. The events in the drill competition involved precision and regulated movements.

In the regulation drills, teams followed verbal commands, carrying ten-pound rifles in the armed categories. In unarmed and armed exhibition drills, teams created their own routines, which involved performing meticulous, coordinated movements in unison. Judges graded cadets using checklists and military drill manuals. Some events required verbal commands; while others employed coordinated footfalls for commands.

In the color guard drill, a four-member team with two flags and two rifles must respond to a set of commands used in drill and military ceremonies from their cadet commander. They formally uncase both the United States and Arizona flags and then complete the drill. Lt. Col. Darcy Swaim, from the 161st Medical Group, was the head judge for the color guard event. Swaim described the cadets as "remarkable people." He said, "It gives me confidence that the military has a bright new group of young people coming up to serve this great country."

This year's judges volunteered from the regular Air Force, Air National Guard and Army National Guard. Tech. Sgt. Jeffrey Lowe, from the wing's recruiting office, said more than 60 military professionals volunteered to setup, coordinate, and judge the event, and each put in more than eight hours of training and preparation.

Teams were judged on everything from uniformity, cadence, hand positioning, commanding, sequence, intervals and discipline. Team members could lose points for hair and uniform violations and subtle shifts while standing at attention.

"There is a laundry list of flaws we are looking for during inspections, but the main characteristic is military bearing," said Capt. Jeff Robinson, head judge for the 10-manned armed regulation. He further explained that military bearing is a key factor in doing well in the competition, maintaining that cadets must not lose their cool and must be resilient if anything goes wrong. Robinson has been a West-Mitchell judge for over four years and he said he will continue to judge because it's "a neat opportunity to watch the kids grow and progress in what hopefully would soon be a military career."

Teams are judged from the moment the unit leader reports in until he or she reports out. Judges ordinarily record cadence and timing sequence violations. Senior Master Sgt. Alex Brown, from the 161st Logistics Readiness Squadron, said it is important to debrief the cadet commander on his or her performance.

"Motivation and dedication are necessary for the kids to put in the work to be successful," said retired Master Sgt. Paul Smith of the Greenway High School Navy JROTC. He added that honor, courage and commitment are some of the leadership skills learned at the event. "Responsibility and timeliness, as a group, are further tools they will obtain in the JROTC program," he said.

Cadet Ace Flores from Vista Grande High School was his unit's commander during the armed regulation event. He led his rifle-carrying team through sharply executed turns and marches. "Being the unit commanders has its ups and downs because whether the team succeeds or fails, everyone looks at the unit commander." Flores recently enlisted in the Marine Corps and is excited to serve.

Steve Blank, chairman of the West-Mitchell drill competition, said everything needed for the event were donated. The American Legion and people from the local community provided the logistical support for the event.

"Thanks to the donations, they do not charge an entrance fee for the schools to participate, nor is there a fee for any spectators," said Blank. This enables the event to award 50 trophies to top performers.

Col. Troy Daniels, commander of the 161st Air Refueling Wing, presented the awards to the winners. He highlighted the importance of collaboration and perseverance. Additionally, he offered words of wisdom by encouraging cadets to "continue to exhibit teamwork, dedication and a thirst for success in pursuit of being the best."