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2022 JROTC National Drill and Fitness Championships
by Sarah Windmueller, U.S. Army Cadet Command Public Affairs
May 14, 2022

After two years of pandemic-related cancellations and restrictions a sense of normalcy returned to Daytona Beach, Fla. this past week.

Over 1,500 Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) students met April 14-16 for the 2022 JROTC National Drill and Fitness Championships. The event featured the best high school JROTC teams from across the nation demonstrating their teamwork, concentration, and “hooah” in Drill and Ceremony, as well as, fitness.

The Striking Bolts from Ridge Community High School compete in the armed exhibition division at the Army JROTC National Drill Championships in Daytona Beach, Florida on April 14, 2022. Cadets demonstrated talent and creativity while performing aerial and over the shoulder techniques paired with marching. (Photo by Sarah Windmueller, U.S. Army Cadet Command Public Affairs)
The Striking Bolts from Ridge Community High School compete in the armed exhibition division at the Army JROTC National Drill Championships in Daytona Beach, Florida on April 14, 2022. Cadets demonstrated talent and creativity while performing aerial and over the shoulder techniques paired with marching. (Photo by Sarah Windmueller, U.S. Army Cadet Command Public Affairs)

“This is the big Army Nationals Competition, as well as the United States Nationals High School Competition ... it’s a competition of drill teams from across the nation,” Grant Estes, a senior from Central Catholic High School in San Antonio, Texas, said. “Each brigade has their own competition that they put on within their home states. We’re 5th Brigade, so the top five teams from each brigade qualified for U.S. Army Nationals and those teams are invited by the Army.”

“It’s a really big event and all those teams come out and compete. We do inspection, regulation, exhibition, color guard, armed solos, armed duos, they also have unarmed events as well,” Estes said. “The next two days, on Friday and Saturday, is U.S. Nationals, which is an open space for all teams to come from all over the nation, from all branches of the military, to compete in the same event.”

JROTC is one of the largest character development and citizenship programs for youth in the world, currently operating in over 1,600 high schools. JROTC aims to motivate students to be better citizens and develop a sense of personal responsibility as they move throughout the different stages of life.

All five JROTC service branches, including Space Force, with teams traveling from as far away as Alaska showed up at Daytona Beach to demonstrate their teamwork and showcase the skills they’ve been working all year to perfect.

“We do various competitions, we get judged and scored on things like our marching, our precision, and our military bearing. We also have an unarmed inspection platoon,” Mia Webster a junior from Montgomery Central High School in Cunningham, TN said. ”We’re scored and judged, and we’re just here to compete with other teams and have fun.”

Cadets from Montgomery Central High School compete in the 3k team beach run during the National JROTC National Fitness Challenge Championships, Daytona Beach, Florida on April 15, 2022. (Photo by Kyle Crawford, U.S. Army Cadet Command Public Affairs)
Cadets from Montgomery Central High School compete in the 3k team beach run during the National JROTC National Fitness Challenge Championships, Daytona Beach, Florida on April 15, 2022. (Photo by Kyle Crawford, U.S. Army Cadet Command Public Affairs)

Webster also reflected on the struggles and successes her team, the Warrior Guard, has experienced preparing for these events.

“We’ve spent hours memorizing–almost verbatim–200 inspection questions, working on our bearing and working on our professionalism,” Webster said. “We really did put in the work, and regardless of how we place, we feel like this is something that we have earned. We’ve definitely come a long way from where we started. Just being here is proof of that.”

As Cadets competed throughout the week, it was evident there was a strong sense of community rooted in each of the teams

“It’s really important to have that team bonding,” Estes said. “We’ve gone by the motto, ‘We are the machine.’ We try to be exact, we try to be precise and it’s taken a lot of dedication, a lot of different methods of teaching and trying to combine them all together to just get the best results.”

Most of the JROTC programs begin preparing for this event in the summer before school starts.

The programs are run by retired service members, hired by the individual school districts, to teach a curriculum that offers challenging academic content and real life experiences.

1st Sgt. Wayne Cogdill, U.S Army (Ret.) has been an instructor at Leavenworth High School in Leavenworth, Kan. going on 18 years. For him, JROTC offers tangible goals and challenges that will benefit students in the real world.

“We don’t sugarcoat stuff and sometimes you’ve got to tell kids what they don’t want to hear,” he said. “You’ve got to be truthful and that’s where we come in and we’re very straightforward. Our mission statement is to motivate young people to be better citizens.”

“With this program, for the kids, it’s where they belong,” he adds. “When they get up in the morning, they know they can come to school and come down to ROTC and they’re safe down there.”

The sense of safety and togetherness coupled with high expectation for discipline standards are something that sets JROTC apart from a regular high school club or sport.

“I feel like JROTC is a lot different because we are a family, but we also have high discipline standards. Discipline is our main thing that we stress a lot, and I just feel when we go places and we’re together and we’re practicing it makes it a lot better to train,” Shamia Pelzer, a senior at Airport High School in West Columbia, S.C., said.

Andrea Bostick, also from Airport High School, agrees with her teammate and adds JROTC ended up exceeding her expectations when she first participated as a freshman.

“It also just shows what all these school are capable of, and what all these instructors are capable of – giving knowledge and sharing their wisdom,” Bostick said. “It also shows other people who have yet to become Cadets that it’s not about joining the military, for your four years of high school. It's being part of a team and having fun.”

With the mission of JROTC solely rooted in setting students up for success and offering them unique opportunities in leadership, these Cadets exhibit a confidence in how they look at their futures.

“The mission of JROTC is to motivate people to become better citizens, not better soldiers. Going into the world after this, I have learned so much as far as interpersonal relationships, leadership, and just how to be a better person in general,” Webster said.

“It has taught me so much, and you can really use that going out into the world ... joining the military or not joining the military–you can use that anywhere,” she added.

Over the competitions' three days every team that stepped on the floor experienced losses and triumphs, tears of happiness or disappointment, and genuine pride in their accomplishments.

All eyes are focused on the remaining two Cadets competing in the Army Nationals Armed Knockout Competition at the Army JROTC National Drill Championships in Daytona Beach, Florida on April 14, 2022. During a knockout competition, commands are called out and drill sergeants watch to see which Cadets are the most disciplined. If a Cadet misses or messes up a command, or if they do not meet drill posture and poise requirements, they will be eliminated. The last Cadet standing is the winner. (Photo by Sarah Windmueller, U.S. Army Cadet Command Public Affairs)
All eyes are focused on the remaining two Cadets competing in the Army Nationals Armed Knockout Competition at the Army JROTC National Drill Championships in Daytona Beach, Florida on April 14, 2022. During a knockout competition, commands are called out and drill sergeants watch to see which Cadets are the most disciplined. If a Cadet misses or messes up a command, or if they do not meet drill posture and poise requirements, they will be eliminated. The last Cadet standing is the winner. (Photo by Sarah Windmueller, U.S. Army Cadet Command Public Affairs)

“JROTC brings together a bunch of different people from different cultures and backgrounds and I feel like it’s the exact same here at this competition.” Bostick said. “We’re bringing people from all over the country together to be here and compete and have a good time and I feel like that’s really important.”

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