By Tim HippsFebruary 20, 2008
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Army News Service, Feb. 20, 2008) -- The United States Army Drill Team wowed NASCAR Sprint Cup Series racing fans with a 15-minute performance before the start of the 50th running of the Daytona 500 on Sunday at Daytona International Speedway. One of the specialty units of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, known as The Old Guard, the U.S. Army Drill Team has earned international acclaim with breathtaking wizardry of handling bayonet-tipped 1903 Springfield rifles. On this day, they performed before a crowd of more than 190,000 people attending The Great American Race. "That was incredible," a race fan exclaimed upon completion of the dazzling display of weapons handling. The unit, stationed at Fort Myer, Va., was organized to support The Old Guard's ceremonial missions. The drill team has thrilled millions of youngsters and patriotic Americans for nearly 50 years with its daring and complex performances -- almost as long as stock-car drivers have been racing around the high banks of Daytona International Speedway. Soldiers are selected for this elite team after six months of rigorous and competitive drill practice. Trim military bearing, strength and dexterity are mandatory to qualify for the U.S. Army Drill Team. For those selected, the rigors of training never stop. To execute the complicated routines as close to perfection as possible, the team practices relentlessly. Timing is of the essence because all routines are performed without vocal cadence or musical cues. The team's performance preceeding The Great American Race was one of the quieter moments of the week inside the 2.5-mile tri-oval confines of Daytona International Speedway, one of the most hallowed grounds in stock-car racing history. The drill team performed a variety of intricate maneuvers, including their daring front-to-rear overhead rifle toss, which delighted the crowd. During the dangerous routine, four Soldiers alternately tossed their spinning, 10-pound rifles from the front rank to the back, often as high as 15 feet into the air and 12 feet to the rear. Four Soldiers in the back rank caught the revolving weapons just as the revolution of the rifles ended with bayonets arced just past the receiving Soldier's right ear. Eight members of the U.S. Armed Forces Color Team honored the national colors and the American servicemen and women who made sacrifices to preserve and protect the nation's cherished liberties and freedoms while country recording artist Trisha Yearwood sang "The Star Spangled Banner" during pre-race festivities. The service member of the joint color guard are stationed at various units in the Washington, D.C., area: Soldiers assigned to the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment at Fort Myer; U.S. Marine Corps Ceremonial and Guard Company, Marine Barracks, Washington; U.S. Navy Ceremonial Guard, Navy District Washington; U.S. Coast Guard Ceremonial Honor Guard, Telecommunications Information Systems Command Center, Alexandria, Va.; and the U.S. Air Force Honor Guard from Bolling Air Force Base in Washington. Each color guard member carried his respective military branch flag with attached campaign streamers. Because the Army is the senior service, a Soldier carried the national flag. The color guard's flank men carried the M14 rifle. A unique office called Ceremonies and Special Events, which falls under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Army Military District at Fort Lesley J. McNair in Washington, coordinated the event.