JROTC units square off

Published 8:36 pm Thursday, March 8, 2012

Pam Pack JROTC battalion drills at Northside High School during a recent drill meet. Washington High School will host one of the biggest drill events in the east from 8 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. Saturday. (Contributed Photo/Lt. Col. Tommy Meeks)

It began with a simple meet: one high school competing against a rival for dominance in precision and coordination, navigational smarts and physical stamina. Thirteen years later, Washington High School’s Junior ROTC meet is one of the biggest in the region.

Saturday, 13 visiting schools and their JROTC units will compete for top honors in a unique lineup of back-to-back Raider and Drill competitions at Washington High School. Starting at 8 a.m., the Pam Pack battalion will pit its skills against other battalions from Chowan, Northampton, Halifax, Pasquotank, Pitt and Wilson counties. The competitions are slated to end at 3:30 p.m.

The ranger teams kick off the action with a physical trial consisting of pushups, sit-ups and a 1-mile run. Teams then break down into eight-man squads, tested with four events: the rope bridge, litter evacuation, land navigation and a looming National Guard rock wall.

“The thing that will see the most interest in the morning is the rope bridge,” said Lt. Col. Tom Meeks, JROTC instructor at Washington High School.

The members of each ranger team are required to build their own rope bridge between two trees, construct a rope seat, then pull themselves a distance across a simulated body of water, without a single team member “getting their feet wet.” A technically challenging trial, it’s made more difficult by the knots — only certain ones may be used, and those must be tied correctly.

The Rangers then move on to other raider-meet drills: building a makeshift litter to transport, at a run, a wounded patient; navigation through use of a compass and plot locations; then climb a National Guard rock wall, ring the bell at the top and descend, all just as fast as a team member can go.

At noon, the competition moves toward precision.

“The hardest thing to do is to get a kid ready to do fancy with weapons,” said Meeks. “It’s minimal commands and memorized. Everyone has to do it together.”

Fancy with weapons is code for highly choreographed step drills with the added challenge of an entire platoon spinning and throwing rifles in complete synchronicity.

Meeks further described the difference between fancy with weapons and fancy without weapons, referring to the latter as more of a step team, focusing on military precision drills: “drill teams, like you see on TV — left, right, left.”

Whichever drills a WHS JROTC cadet prefers, Meeks explained, it takes discipline and fulfills a need to fit into a peer group.

“I have a core of kids that this is their niche,” said Meeks. “Every kid needs a niche.”

The JROTC course is designed as citizenship program through the U.S. Department of Defense, not to push high-school students into to the military, but to develop graduates prepared to head into the work force or attend college on ROTC scholarships. Should they choose a military career, however, they would enlist at a higher pay grade than those who had not taken the JROTC course.

One hundred and forty-four Washington High School students are enrolled in the program this year, and the public is invited to witness their performances Saturday.

“A lot of kids out there have worked a long time to get where they are,” said Meeks. “They’re putting a lot of effort in it.”

Concessions will be available.