ATLANTA- Barrels, buttstocks, and bolts whizzed a fingerbreadth from Cadet Christian Wright's face as he commanded his team during an armed squad exhibition at the North Springs Charter High School Invitational Drill Meet, Feb. 24, 2018.
Wright, a sophomore at Evans High School in Georgia was unflappable. His eyes set on a higher prize-- earning a nomination to West Point, an Army commission and becoming a Cardiothoracic Surgeon. Wright's phlegmatic performance helped him take 1st place in the male armed squad exhibition.
Active and reserve component recruiters from Atlanta Recruiting Battalion, U.S. Army Recruiting Command teamed up with Soldiers from the 335th Signal Command (Theater) to judge Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) students in drill and ceremony from 13 high schools across Georgia during the North Springs Charter High School Invitational Drill Meet.
Retired Army Maj. Todd Powers, senior Army instructor North Springs Charter High School hosted the annual competition for the fifth year in a row. Powers a former enlisted infantryman turned infantry officer has been running the JROTC program at North Springs since 2010. Powers promotes the Army Values and the benefits of drill and ceremony to his students.
During his military career, Powers served as a member of the 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard). The Old Guard, known for their powerful lockstep demonstrations at Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, also includes the U.S. Army Drill Team, a precision drill platoon with the primary mission of showcasing the U.S. Army through breathtaking routines with bayonet-tipped 1903 Springfield rifles.
"This competition supports the high school cadets, and it intertwines the JROTC drill and ceremony with the Army drill and ceremony, Powers said. "It is driven around the leadership aspect of the Army and the Army Values."
Powers explained that the event would be impossible to pull off without the assistance of the Active Army, Army Reserve and Army National Guard Soldiers who supported the event, grading and judging the cadets on drill and ceremony.
"Having all three components brings the community together and forms a partnership with our school, he said." It also allows the cadets get to interact with Active Duty, Reserve and National Guard personnel to learn about the unique experiences and maybe opportunities for them in the future."
The all-day competition tested cadets' marching skills, color guard performance and leadership abilities as they guided formations and called cadence. It also brought together the total Army Force to serve the Atlanta community with an additional goal-- shaping future military and civilian leaders.
"We must be involved in the community-for them to see our presence in uniform in the community," explained U.S. Army Capt. Andrew Uthlaut, a judge during the competition and an operations officer for the 335th.
"It's important for them to see that we believe in these kids and that we're here to help shape the future leaders of our country," he said. "I want cadets to leave with a good sense of discipline competition and teamwork so they can put that forth in their future as military leaders or leaders in our community."
The overall winner of the 2018 drill meet was Grovetown High School's "Warrior Drill Team." Grovetown won the previous year and are known for their tight routines.
While all students competing want to bring home the gold, many enjoy drill and ceremony for the discipline it takes to execute it flawlessly and JROTC how it had developed their leadership abilities. Abilities that Cadet Wright will need for the ambitious path he has carved for himself.
"You have to have discipline to execute drill and ceremony. It brings everyone on the team together," Wright said. "Discipline ensures your formation is consistent. Before joining the program, the ROTC program I didn't have that sense of leadership. Now, I can say all right guys, we need to get this done at this time, and I've learned a sense of schedule and how to be a leader."
Cadet Elijah Short, a junior at Evans High School and Wright's teammate, loves the camaraderie and intangibles he's gotten from the JROTC program and competing in drill and ceremony competitions.
"Personally, I feel dedicated to something; I feel a part of something. It has improved my leadership ability and my time management," Short said.
"JROTC helps me pay attention to the little things, details, especially in drill and ceremony, you have to do that. Besides that, Its helps me feel a sense of, I have to be with my people, I have to work with them, and I can't get angry with them all the time like I want to-I have to work with them."
Short, who plans to apply for an Army ROTC Scholarship and attend the University of North Georgia, or the University of Georgia wants to serve as an Infantry Officer in the U.S. Army.
"I want to be Infantry because I don't want to be sitting at a desk-with paperwork. I want to be able to go out and have some fun," he said.