By Steve Arel, U.S. Army Cadet CommandJanuary 3, 2012
SAN ANTONIO (Jan. 3, 2011) -- Michael Thompson serves as battalion executive officer for Miami Sunset Senior High School's Junior ROTC program. Come Saturday, he'll be a field general leading the U.S. Army All-American Bowl marching band.
As the ensemble's drum major, Thompson will be the first one onto the Alamodome field directing the critical melodic movement during a halftime performance at the 12th annual game that pits some of the nation's top high school football prospects.
Thompson is the first Junior ROTC Cadet to lead the marching band, now in its fifth year, said Brian Prato, the band's director of operations.
A seven-year participant in school band, Thompson is quick to rank the All-American Bowl accolade.
"This is No. 1," he said. "It's huge."
The All-American Bowl Band features 125 senior musicians and color guard members from across the country. As the drum major, Thompson, an accomplished musician with the trumpet and French horn, will be perched atop a stand to conduct Saturday's performance. In preparation, he's leading the group during hours-long practices and rehearsals and carrying out the band director's instructions.
Thompson's selection came as no surprise to those who know him, considering his talent and potential.
"He's a natural leader," said CW4 Jose Santini, senior Army instructor for the Miami Sunset program. "They made a good pick."
Some 30 students applied for the drum major role. Andre Feagin, the All-American Bowl band director, wanted someone who possessed charisma, a strong musical background and the ability to be a humble leader.
Reviewing Thompson's resume and video, Feagin said he knew immediately he had his on-field commander. It didn't hurt, too, that he had experience leading his peers as a Cadet.
"These leaders rise to the top," Feagin said. "Michael's background in JROTC was intriguing, as well as what he felt about music and what (his selection) would mean to his program."
Thompson got an unexpected call from Feagin during lunch one day in late-May notifying him of his selection. When he applied, Thompson hedged on whether he could receive the nod. He figured he had the talent, but didn't know how he would fare against students enrolled in specialized music-development schools.
"You don't have to come from the largest band program in the district to have quality people," said Tyrone O'Neal, Miami Sunset's band director. "It not where you're at, but what you do while you're there."
"Michael understands esprit de corps, the code of conduct and the order of things," O'Neal explained. "With Michael, his concern is the mission. Everything is geared toward the mission, and everything that deviates, he eliminates that and stays focused."
Throughout this week, Thompson will work closely with Feagin to hone the proposed routine and build rapport, as much as he can in a few days, with students he doesn't know. To help quickly develop a relationship, when band members arrived Monday at their hotel, there was Thompson shaking hands with fellow students, introducing himself and chatting with them.
"Nobody told him to do that," Feagin said. "But that's exactly what he should do. He's that guy that's not afraid. He's a great face for us."
Thompson attributes much of his success in band, both as a player and as the drum major for Miami Sunset the last two years, to his JROTC experience. He said the program continually pushes him out of his comfort zone, forcing him to think critically, make quick decisions and understand the consequences of those decisions.
Thompson joined JROTC as a sophomore, though he had considered being part of the program for sometime previous to that. He just couldn't fit it into his schedule.
So when he had a free elective open, he took advantage. More than anything, he said, he wanted to better himself as a leader.
Thompson quickly became engrained in the program, becoming part of the drill team and color guard and volunteering in various community projects.
His success and knack for leading others was so evident to Santini that he wanted to make Thompson the Cadet battalion commander this year. But he said he couldn't because of Thompson's demands of being the high school band's drum major.
Thompson, who's considering a Senior ROTC scholarship, plans to attend the University of Miami after graduation and major in nursing. He had decided against medical school and becoming a physician because he said medical school is too long, and he wants to be in a position more quickly to help people.
As for Saturday's All-American Bowl performance, Thompson admits the buildup to show time will be nerve-wracking. But he's confident the exhibition will be solid.
"They're the best in the nation," he said of his All-American teammates. "The only thing I have to do is make sure I'm ready. If I'm ready and confident, I have the mindset that nothing will go awry once the performance comes."