One of the most basic and toughest disciplines for any soldier to master is the drill, and it was on display this past weekend thanks to the area's young cadets.
More than 500 JROTC cadets from the 14 high schools in Lee County gathered at Mariner High School on Saturday to compete in the JROTC/ Harold C. Buck VFW Post 4254 Drill Competition.
The cadets competed in 20 formation exercises, armed and unarmed, exhibition and regulation, male, female and mixed, and in singles, duals and teams.
A North Fort Myers High School color guard team, from left, Julia Romero, Emily Saidi, Chelsea Kopp, and Asia Shepherd, competes during Saturday’s JROTC/ Harold C. Buck VFW Post 4254 Drill Competition.
William Zakovic, operations manager of the Lee County JROTC program, said this is an event cadets have been working toward since August.
"One of the major extra-curricular activities the cadets engage in is drill. From the beginning of the year, the students have been practicing for today," Zakovic said. "From individual performance to 13-person platoons, there is a specific standard they are judged against."
There would be no overall school winner per se, just winners in each event, with the top five earning trophies. However, those who did win were able to secure some bragging rights for their ROTC unit and school.
They started coming at the crack of dawn, and by 8 a.m., a record 214 entries began the process of conducting precision drill movements in squad and platoon formations while competing for top honors in this all day event.
Command Sgt. Maj. (Ret.) John Humphries, a JROTC instructor at Mariner, where about 623 students participate, said the competition was intense, but his teams were making out great.
"It's a competition of movement and synchronization, and I don't think we're losing," Humphries said. "We have a strong program here at Mariner and the students are very dedicated. All the schools are well-trained and it's anybody's game."
"I think we'll be among the top five overall,
The competition ended with the always exciting armed and unarmed knockout precision drill competition, where the last one standing is the winner.
"One judge will give the commands, while other judges watch, and if a cadet makes a mistake, he has to leave the field," Zacovic said. "That continues until the last cadet is standing."
As in years past, the Harold C. Buck VFW Post 4254 sponsored the event. Lt. Col. Teresa Galgano, adjutant of the post and an ROTC instructor, said part of her post's goal is to help youth organizations. She was in the school tabulating the results.
"We enjoy helping the community. We help veterans, community support systems that help them, and the veterans enjoy helping the kids because they have learned to respect veterans and military service," Galgano said.
The JROTC program has more than 5,700 students with 48 instructors, of those students 98 percent graduate high school, yet only one in five enter the military.
The mission of the JROTC program is to "Motivate Young People to be Better Citizens."
"I was in Wisconsin and they didn't have ROTCs there, so when I found out we were moving to Florida, I was happy I could pursue my career, and the ROTC helps me get there," said Tanner Kuberik, a sophomore cadet at Oasis High School, who wants to join the military upon graduation.
The schools also compete in the academic contests, the Raider Challenge in October, with a local marksmanship competition in April and a state competition at Island Coast High School.