Marching toward perfection
“Forward, march. Half-step, march. Platoon, halt.”
Kim Julian, Chugiak High Cadet Lieutenant’s voice echoed through the crowd-packed gym at the 2014 Eagle River High School JROTC Drill Competition on Saturday, Jan. 18.
Thirteen immaculately dressed teams performed in seven rounds of competitions during the daylong event.
Julian, unit leader for the Chugiak’s Regulation Armed division, led her rifle-carrying team through sharply executed turns and marches.
The team moved as if one body, one mind.
This, Julian said, is what they all strive toward.
Her team practices two to three hours a day after school, and Julian works with everyone as long as necessary.
“Being a leader can be difficult,” she said. “But you learn to adapt with your platoon.”
She plans on joining the military after she graduates. Leading competitions has taught her to work as a team, and to put the professional over the personal.
“Sometimes this is hard, but you walk on through it,” she said.
Jessica Turner, who marches in Julian’s platoon, is a junior at Chugiak High. This is her second year on the team.
“I love the program because it’s taught me what it’s like to have a family within the school,” she said.
The NJROTC program is not a recruitment class, she stressed.
“It teaches you how to be humble and how to take constructive criticism,” she said.
The most difficult aspect for her is the struggle between rising up as a leader and working together as a unit.
“You just feel it,” she said. “You can’t explain it but when everyone’s in sync, it’s the most amazing feeling.
According to Tech. Sgt. Heather Lewis, the head judge, more than 20 military professionals volunteered to judge the event and each put in more than eight hours of training and preparation.
Judges were represented by four different forces: Marines, Air Force, Army and Navy, in order to keep the scoring fair and impartial.
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.
“We’re looking for everything you can think of,” Lewis 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.
Yet, mistakes can reflect positively upon a team member if he or she maintains bearing after executing the mistake.
“That’s exactly what we’re looking for,” Lewis said.
The comfort of precision
Eagle River junior Hannah Smejkal has competed in JROTC drills for three years.
“I like how precise it is, and how I have to pay attention,” she said. “It’s comforting knowing that I’m trying to reach for perfection.”
She competes in color guard, regulation unarmed and regulation armed units.
Since she competes on multiple teams, she must learn and remember three different and intricate routines.
“It’s more nerve-racking in color guard,” she said. “It’s a smaller team and therefore more personal. Mistakes and inconsistencies are more noticeable.”
Derek Jensen, Eagle River High senior, has competed on color guard and regulation armed teams for four years.
Since he grew up in a military family, he was familiar with JROTC’s discipline and attention to detail.
“It’s not hard for me, but I see others struggling,” he said.
He finds practices fairly laidback but nerves hit when they line up for competitions.
“Once I’m on the floor, I feel calm,” he said.
For Jensen, part of being on a team means that when one person makes a mistake, the rest need to compensate.
“This team component allowed me to learn how to rely on others,” he said. “We have to trust each other and that isn’t always easy.”
The next JROTC competition takes place Feb. 8 at Colony High School.
2014 Eagle River High JROTC Drill Competition
Regulation color guard: 1. Dimond; 2. Eagle River; 3. North Pole
First year color guard: 1. Dimond; 2. East; 3. Eagle River
Regulation without arms: 1. Service; 2. Dimond; 3. Bethel
First year regulation without arms: 1. East; 2. Eagle River; 3. Dimond
Regulation with arms: 1. Dimond; 2. Service; 3. East
Exhibition without arms: 1. Dimond; 2. Colony; 3. Service
Exhibition with arms: 1. Dimond; 2. North Pole; 3. Service