One of many sayings often preached by Chief and Army Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps Instructor Johnnie Hickson is “excellence through repetition.” For the MHS JROTC drill team, this adage has described their success this school year; it is also part of the reason why they will soon be making their first ever appearance at the National High School Drill Team Championships this coming May, which will be held in Sunny Daytona Beach, Fla.
“This is very significant because since the Mililani JROTC program was established, the drill team hasn’t won a single competition,” said Assistant Drill Team Commander and Senior Shelby Andrade. “And to be able to not only work our way up the ladder to be number one in the state but now having the opportunity to possibly be number one in the world in just a single year is very remarkable and phenomenal.”
The drill team is made up of students who are a part of the MHS JROTC program. For this year’s current team, they began training with two summer camps in June and July.
“We perform both regulation and exhibition routines. A regulation routine is a set of commands and the winner is determined based on who executed the commands the best, while an exhibition is just that, an exhibition. Here, we showcase our unique moves that we came up with,” said Drill Team Commander and Senior Matthew Leonard, who has been doing drill activities for over five years.
“From the first month of school, we actively promoted joining the drill team to our new cadets, and as new members joined, we trained them in the basics. Our first competition was in October, and the team grew from around 15 cadets to over 40, so we had a lot of training to do.”
To qualify for nationals, JROTC drill teams have to compete at the West Point Society Drill Meet. This year, the competition was hosted by MHS on Jan. 25 and included 22 units from around the island. The MHS drill team ended up placing first, followed by runner-up Kapolei High School.
“My favorite memory from this drill season was West Point Drill Meet, as it was the first time we as a team not only placed in every category, but to win first place overall for the first time was amazing,” said Andrade.
“I have been a part of this great team since my freshman year, and to finally get the success we deserve and we have constantly worked for is so rewarding and motivating.”
To reach the national competition, the drill team estimates that it will cost roughly around $50,000 due to airfare, meal costs, hotel rooms, van rentals and new exhibition uniforms for 33 cadets and four instructors. Currently the team has raised $12,000 through fundraising and donations. Their deadline for fundraising is the end of March.
Throughout the school year, the team has practiced their routines on a daily basis. The total amount of practice time the team has every week clocks out at around 20 hours and takes place four times a week plus optional morning practices. An essential part of these practices is a routine called drill team assessments; Hickson says that DTAs are a practice that only the Mililani drill team does.
“DTA’s are designed to be strict, exact drill movements that must be executed to what the regulation outlines. (We do) 20 to 25 minutes of DTA’s and then we conduct an after action review of what we have improved on and what we see that needs improvements,” said Hickson.
Besides these practices at MHS, the drill team has worked with other members outside of school to help improve their skills.
“We collaborate with the Royal Hawaiian Honor Guard as well as retired Hilton guard members outside of school to learn their style of drill. Both of these organizations were prominent back in the 1990s and 2000s for putting Hawai‘i on top of the drill world, and what we do at the nationals will also represent them,” said Leonard.
Despite the many achievements the team has accomplished so far, the group has also faced several challenges.
“Some hardships we faced were (that) cadets have other priorities such as sport teams, clubs and work, causing cadets to miss practice and making the team have to take steps back to catch the missing cadets up with what was missed,” said Andrade.
Unarmed Regulation Commander and Sophomore Ryan Green added, “People didn’t get along with each other and some people quit because of other people, but this only made us stronger because it brought us closer not only as a team but as a family.”
To help prepare for nationals, the drill team has continued their high intensity practices along with other preparations.
“We still need to have brand new uniforms issued. We already have our routines solidified for the most part, so we now just need to perfect our execution,” said Leonard.
Andrade added, “And like any great team, we watch films of not only ourselves to see what we did good and what we need to improve on, but we also watch videos of other schools to see the competition we are against.”
If you want to help fund the drill team’s trip, there are many ways to help out. Cash or checks can be sent to the school address or brought directly to the JROTC Department (P29) at MHS. A receipt will be provided immediately for the donation or mailed back to the donators. For additional ways to contribute and donate (GoFundMe & other local fundraising opportunities), contact Chief Hickson Mililani HS Army JROTC Instructor at [email protected] or the Senior Army JROTC Instructor at [email protected]