PHOENIX SKY HARBOR AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE --
Precision, decisiveness and confidence circulated through the air - at least for Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps cadets competing in the 15th annual West-Mitchell Invitational Drill Meet.
High school JROTC teams from all over Arizona journeyed to the 161st Air Refueling Wing Saturday, representing the U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force and U.S. Marines.
The JROTC cadets participated in eight different events: inspection, Four-Man Armed and Unarmed Regulation and Exhibition, 10-Man Armed and Unarmed Regulation and Exhibition, and varsity and first year color guard. Cadets marched crisply, turning quickly at corners as commanders yelled out orders, while others executed complicated rifle maneuvers. Before the closing ceremony, the drill meet featured an armed and unarmed "drill-down" competition. In the drill-down or "knockout" challenge, cadets attempt to follow a series of commands and those who do not listen carefully and complete an incorrect command are eliminated, until one remains. "It is like a Simon Says game," said Tech. Sgt. Brian Jones, event coordinator for the competition.
More than 50 volunteers from the U.S. Air Force, Arizona Air National Guard, Arizona Army National Guard, a retired Senior Chief from the U.S. Navy, and the Medical Service Corp., committed their day to judging, setting-up, tearing-down and running errands for this event.
As an expert in uniform dress and appearance, former Military Training Instructor Senior Master Sgt. Alex Brown from the 161 ARW inspected cadets from each of the competing high schools.
The popularity of the drill meet is becoming larger and more competitive than ever. Hosted by members of Sons of The American Legion Post One, the first West-Mitchell Invitational Drill Meet had only four local Phoenix schools in attendance. This year, 23 schools with more than 400 students participated in the competition. "The best thing about this drill meet is that it is free and gives as many students possible the opportunity to compete," said Master Sgt. (Ret.) Fred Driver, JROTC instructor from Hamilton High School. "Depending on the size of students that attend any given competition, some entry fees are as much as $750," he added.
JROTC students practice year round for important drill competitions said Sgt. Maj. (Ret.) SD Hazzard, JROTC instructor from Casa Grande High School. "Win or lose, they put forth the effort; they practice every morning before school and they are truly committed. We do not steer them toward any branch of service, we are just happy to see them do something positive with their life. Their dedication alone is something to be proud of."
"It is not just about the competition, even though that is fun; we like demonstrating the proper way to perform drill," said Cadet John Simon, Thunderbird High School, Armed drill team Commander. "We are all so close and nothing in the world compares to the JROTC program. We get to actually practice leadership."
Cadet Capt. Yoxira Roman, Trevor Browne High School, disagreed saying "we like competing and we like being the best. We have an awesome coach, we are all dedicated and we always hope to improve our skills."
"This event is a great way to highlight the schools and show off the students individual talents. It builds relationships between current and retired military members among all the branches and most important, gives students the opportunity to see active military members in action," added Chief Master Sgt. Barbara Alexander, 161 ARW force support manager.
The JROTC program provides students with confidence, opportunities to grow and obtain leadership positions, patriotism and the love of being an American, said Master Sgt. Jaime Acevedo, recruiting and retention superintendent.
Although not everyone was able to take home a trophy, the cadets are all winners. The instructors, the families, and especially the cadets worked hard to prepare for the competition. Learning and competing in drill events teaches valuable life lessons such as attention to detail, discipline and situational awareness, said Lt. Col. Allen Kirksey, 161 ARW chief of staff.