By Brian Hill, Fort Leonard Wood Public Affairs Office
FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. (Jan. 26, 2024) — About 50 Fort Leonard Wood service members volunteered their time — and part of their weekend — to support the Waynesville Junior ROTC Drill Competition, which took place Jan. 20 at Waynesville High School.
The annual event provides high school students from across the region the opportunity to demonstrate their expertise at skills, such as discipline and military bearing.
According to retired Col. Charles Williams, senior Army instructor for Waynesville’s JROTC program, drill sergeants with Company B, 787th Military Police Battalion — alongside Marine Corps Detachment and Center for Seabees and Facilities Engineering Navy Detachment instructors — acted as judges for the various events, and Maneuver Support Center of Excellence NCO Academy attendees assisted with support functions for the event alongside the Waynesville cadets, who did not compete in their home event.
Williams said having drill sergeants and instructors on hand — who know and teach drill on a daily basis — helps make the Waynesville competition special for the cadets and their families.
“I think the beauty of our meet, probably more than any other one, is they get to see a lot of active-duty Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines,” Williams said. “For a lot of communities, the only thing they ever really see is National Guard — not that it’s good or bad, but it’s different — or a lot of times, the judges, when you get farther away, are retirees. It’s just different. I think that’s the cool thing about ours.”
The competition featured six events, with two categories per event — armed and unarmed — and the teams have a list of more than 50 criteria on which they are graded for each event, Williams said.
Helping judge the unarmed exhibition portion — which looked like a combination of drill and ceremony movements with step dance routines — was Staff Sgt. Joshua Robertson, a Bravo Company drill sergeant, who said the amount of discipline and attention to detail he observed was amazing.
Robertson made the point that the term “drill” is “in the title, drill sergeant.”
“I think they think of us as the subject matter experts, so being able to be that judge and observe all the hard work they’ve put in, it’s rewarding for sure,” he said.
Echoing those sentiments was Marine Gunnery Sgt. Luis Palomera, an instructor with the Fort Leonard Wood Marine Corps Detachment’s Motor Transport Instruction Company, who also helped judge the cadets’ performances.
“We all have one goal in mind, and it is to instill discipline through leadership,” he said. “We use close-order drill to do that.”
Palomera said getting to work alongside the different branches of service has the added benefit of “broadening our spectrum.”
“Some of the language is a little different, but the shared experience is the same,” he said.
For the cadets, the Waynesville competition provides “a level of intimidation that we don’t normally have,” said Alexander Jackson, a senior at Ozark High School, in Ozark, Missouri, who competed in the armed events this year.
“This is my fifth and final time here, and I enjoy it every time,” Jackson said. “The drill sergeants always add a certain level to the competition that we don’t normally get when we practice.”
After graduation, Jackson said he decided to enlist in the Army as an Infantryman, and he reports to Fort Moore, Georgia, in July, for one station unit training — he said he’s following in the footsteps of his grandfather.
“He served, and I admire him a lot,” Jackson said.
The 2024 competition included 10 schools, with Leavenworth High School, from Leavenworth, Kansas, named overall champions.
Presenting the trophies to the individual event and overall winners were Maj. Gen. Christopher Beck, MSCoE and Fort Leonard Wood commanding general, and Command Sgt. Maj. Jorge Arzabala.
Speaking in the gymnasium at the awards ceremony, Beck thanked the families and service members in attendance, and told the cadets to be proud of “the motivation, the drive and the work ethic that each one of you showed.”
“I’d like to challenge you all,” Beck said. “You didn’t get to do what you’re doing right now — you didn’t get to do the incredible things you did today without challenging yourselves. Please don’t ever stop doing that. You all have stepped up, and through JROTC, showed discipline, drive and compassion that, frankly, a lot of your peers can emulate. So, I’m really proud to have the opportunity to be here, and I’m proud of what you all do each and every day. The last thing I’ll tell you, and you learn this every day at JROTC, but don’t ever forget it: Life’s a team sport. The relationships you’re building today will carry on forever. Whether you join the military — which is also a team sport — or go in a different direction, the lessons, the values, the work ethic and the drive that you’re displaying with events like this are unbelievable.”
More photos from the competition are available to view and download on the Fort Leonard Wood Flickr page, at https://www.flickr.com/photos/fortleonardwood/albums/72177720314244542/.
About Fort Leonard Wood
Fort Leonard Wood is a thriving and prosperous installation that has evolved from a small basic training post more than 80 years ago to a premier Army Center of Excellence that trains nearly 80,000 military and civilians each year.
Fort Leonard Wood is home to the U.S Army Maneuver Support Center of Excellence and three U.S. Army schools: the U.S. Army Engineer School; U.S. Army Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear School; and the U.S. Army Military Police School. In addition to training engineer, CBRN and military police specialties for the Army, Fort Leonard Wood also provides gender-integrated in-processing and Basic Combat Training for new Soldiers.
Fort Leonard Wood also hosts and trains with the largest Marine Corps Detachment and Air Force Squadron on any Army installation as well as a large Navy construction detachment.
More information about Fort Leonard Wood is at: https://home.army.mil/wood/index.php/about/mission