Junior ROTC cadets from Thompson Valley and Loveland High School have been busy shining their shoes and belt buckles with their toothbrushes lately.
At 6:30 a.m. Wednesday, the cadets were practicing for the Ram Battalion JROTC Drill Meet taking place this Saturday in CSU’s intramural gyms. This is the second year for the drill meet, hosted by CSU’s Army ROTC division. The event will begin promptly at 9 a.m. and will run into the afternoon.
Eight teams from all across the Front Range will be competing in several different drill routines including color guard, and armed and unarmed exhibitions. A few will also take part in Unit Inspections in which cadets are judged on their uniform, posture and knowledge of the military. More than 300 high school-aged cadets are expected to attend.
These events are meant to determine “who’s got the most squared away cadets,” according to Cadet Steven Wade, a fourth-year mechanical engineering major in charge of organizing the event.
Each routine will be judged by three to four CSU cadets who participate in drill meets at the collegiate level. Prior to the meet, the judges will watch several videos of proper drill technique to “eliminate any partiality,” explained Wade.
Trophies will be awarded to the top competitors, and Colonel John Gerhard, the JROTC coordinator for Thompson School District, admits that internal rivalries exist. Thompson School District includes all of the Loveland area public schools; Mountain View, Thompson Valley and Loveland High School will all be competing for bragging rights.
This is an exciting opportunity for junior cadets to show off their skills to their local ROTC battalion.
“(This) is something that we love to do. (This) is big to us,” Gerhard said.
While many of the junior cadets are worried about placing well, Wade stressed that the goal of the meet is “100% motivational.”
“A lot of these kids had nothing else,” Wade said, based on his experience as a JROTC cadet in Texas.
Many of the cadets Wade knew came from broken homes or simply didn’t participate in other extracurricular activities.
“You’ve got your football jocks, these are your army jocks,” Wade said.
The Ram Battalion is equivalent to the state football game according to Wade.
According to Wade, within his high school platoon, 20 to 25 percent of cadets continue with ROTC in college, most enlist and the rest don’t continue with military involvement.
Things are a bit different in the Thompson School District. Of the approximately 40 seniors Gerhard advises, only six currently plan to enlist and four to five will continue on to senior ROTC after graduation. Of those that don’t plan on entering the military, about 60 percent go to college, according to Gerhard.
While much of the training that takes place at the collegiate level of ROTC is to prepare young men and women for combat, the ultimate goal of the high school program is to “motivate young people to be better citizens,” according to the US Army’s JROTC website.
Gerhard agrees with the program’s national vision of leadership and service, but explained that the number one objective of the program in the Thompson School District is high school graduation.
“The big goal is two to four year college,” Gerhard said.
Gerhard is proud of his cadet’s academic excellence.
All of the cadets are well above average when it comes to GPA’s, ACT’s and other test scores, Gerhard said.
JROTC courses are incorporated into the Thompson School District high school curriculum. There are four levels of Leadership Education Training (LET) courses that teach leadership skills, first aid, financial planning and military history, among other things. These courses are purely optional and are taught by Gerhard or another army instructor.
Being a part of the JROTC drill team is an extracurricular commitment. The cadets practice five mornings a week throughout the school year. They earn positions for drill competitions based on their attendance and skill during practice.
“They have to earn their way (onto a drill platoon),” explained Gerhard.
Many students decide to join the drill team because of family ties, while others simply appreciate the leadership and camaraderie.
“A large percentage have a history (of family in the military),” Gerhard explained.
Connor Dingae, a senior at Thompson Valley High School, admitted that he had no ties to the military beyond his great-grandfather, but that he had an interest in the military, the recruiters’ uniforms intrigued him.
Dingae plans to go to college and then enter the military. He is waiting to hear back from West Point military academy in New York.
The cadets interviewed at Loveland High School all agreed that their biggest worry is the Unit Inspection. During the inspection, the cadets must stand at attention and individually answer a barrage of questions ranging from identifying the current secretary of the army to explaining why they hadn’t shaved that morning.
While preparing for the meet earlier this week, the platoon leader threw in a few surprises. To one nervous cadet he asked, “What is your favorite breakfast cereal?!” The cadet took a moment before responding that he liked Fruity Pebbles, sir.
“The whole point of it is to keep your bearing,” Dingae said.
Another event Gerhard called the “Individual Knock-Out Drill” will involve high school cadets lining up and following random commands given by an officer. Cadets are eliminated when they make a mistake until there is only one left.
“It’s like a giant game of Snake, except with people,” Dingae said, in regards to the more complex drill commands.
The meet is open to the public, although silence is expected while each group competes.