16th annual West-Mitchell Invitational Drill Meet
By 1st Lt. Rebecca Cruz, 161 Air Refueling Wing
/ Published February 21, 2015
PHOENIX -- Congratulations to Campo Verde High School for winning the first place overall championship title during the 16th annual West-Mitchell Invitational Drill Meet hosted by the 161st Air Refueling Wing Saturday, February 21.
The annual competition included more than 400 Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps cadets from 15 JROTC high school programs competing in eight different drill competitions. These competitions include: Inspection, Armed and Unarmed Regulation, Color Guard, and Armed and Unarmed Exhibition Drills.
All of the cadets are inspected to military standards with their overall appearance and bearing. During the Inspection, judges also question cadets on their knowledge of military history and military ranks. The events in the drill competition involve precision and regulated movements. In the Regulation drills, teams follow verbal commands which are identical for each team, carrying ten pound rifles in the armed drills. In Unarmed and Armed Exhibition drills, teams create their own routines which involve performing intricate, coordinated movements in unison and the manipulation of rifles. Judges have checklists of what to look for, basing their grading on military drill manuals. In some events commands are verbal; in others, the signals are sometimes just coordinated footfalls.
In the Color Guard Drill, a four-member team with two flags and two rifles must respond to a fixed list of commands used in drill and military ceremonies from their cadet commander. They formally uncase both the American and Virginia flags and then complete the drill. The Color Guards are well-known and well-respected throughout their community, the local schools, and beyond for their performance at many events, especially those involving patriotic holidays and observances.
This year's judges volunteered from the Army National Guard, Air Force Reserves, Air National Guard and the Marine Corp Reserves. Senior Master. Sgt. Alex Brown, the head judge, 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 can lose points for hair and uniform violations and subtle shifts while standing at attention. Judges have checklists of what to look for, basing their grading on military drill manuals.
"We're looking for any type of imperfection and lack of military bearing," Brown said.
Teams are judged from the moment the unit leader reports in until he or she reports out. Judges typically note a lot of cadence and timing sequence violations. As a judge, it is important to debrief the cadet commander on his or her mistakes, said Brown.
"Teamwork is the key to the students' success," said MSgt Fred Driver (Ret.) of the Hamilton High School JROTC. "These cadets prepare physically and mentally for these events. The cadet leader's decisions will have a major impact on their team's ability to overcome obstacles."
While the judges' scores are being tabulated for the award ceremony, cadets have a chance to participate in two "Knock-Out" drills, unarmed and armed. SMSgt Brown calls out rapid commands until only one cadet is left standing. A cadet from Thunderbird High School took 1st place in the armed drill-down competition.
Cadet Avry Gibson from Casa Grande Union High School is the unit leader for the Regulation Armed event. He led his rifle-carrying team through sharply executed turns and marches. He said the team practices about two hours a day during school, and Gibson works with everyone as long as necessary.
"This is my first year being captain and it can be difficult," he said. "But our platoon is really great friends in and out of school." He plans on joining the military as a Marine Corp combat engineer after he graduates.
Sarah Campbell from Higley High School led the 4-man unarmed exhibition event. This is her third year on the team. "JROTC has taught me how to be a better person in life overall," she said. "Dealing with different personalities in the team and time management skills has been the most difficult aspect, but at the end of the day we work together very well."
Thunderbird High school senior John Simon has competed in JROTC drills for four years. "I like working together as a team to create a precision drill routine," he said. "I enjoy the challenge of struggling for perfection."
"The most nerve-racking event I participate in is the 10-man armed exhibition, we call it the meat grinder when we toss the rifles to each other and around our heads; there are so many moving parts," he said.
Since he grew up in a military family, his dad infused him with core values and discipline. "The JROTC lifestyle comes natural for me, but I see others struggling that do not have parents that are involved in their lives," he said. He said they practice before school, during lunch, and after school. They film themselves and pick each other apart so when they compete they feel calm. For Simon, he said patience and working out their idiosyncrasies has been his greatest lesson - to put my own needs aside to better the team.
Mr. Steve Blank, chairman of the West-Mitchell drill competition said almost all the things needed for the event were donated. The American Legion and people from our community donated water, Gatorade, hamburgers, hotdogs and we were able to raise over $2,800. Blank says thanks to the donations, they do not charge an entrance fee for the schools to participate nor is there a fee for any spectators. We give out over 50 trophies and that includes three huge trophies for the overall 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winners. Thunderbird High School won the most 1st place trophies out of all the schools that participated.