Drill teams show their moves

IT'S NOT YOUR FATHER'S AIR FORCE ROTC

February 14, 1993|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff Writer

It's definitely not your father's Air Force ROTC anymore!

Unlike the old days, the squadron commander of the junior Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps at Oakland Mills High School is a girl -- 17-year-old Jaime West.

Standing ramrod straight in front of her 26-member flight yesterday at the eighth annual junior ROTC drill competition at the 5th Regiment Armory in Baltimore, she barks out a "Ten-HUT!" as good as any first sergeant calls airmen to attention.

Look closer and you'll find that twice as many members of the exhibition drill team are young women. All wear Air Force blue uniforms. What sets them apart are their hairstyles. They look more like they are going to a prom than a drill competition. It's definitely not your father's Air Force ROTC.

Competing against the county's other two junior ROTC units recently -- Altholton and Howard High -- Oakland Mills was judged best in exhibition drill, second in basic drill and third -- "last," Jaime says with a sigh -- in color guard. Jaime is the color-guard member who carries the U.S. flag.

Oakland Mills had to carry the honor of the county alone against eight Baltimore high schools. Atholton and Howard High were supposed to compete, but couldn't because a snow emergency plan was in effect early yesterday.

Students aren't supposed to travel under those conditions, said Chief Warrant Officer Sullivan Brown, Howard's adviser. "I didn't want to risk it."

What about Oakland Mills?

"I didn't get the word," says Capt. Joe Shepherd, the adviser.

Hmmmm. That does seem like the old days -- headquarters calling off the mission, but a commander not hearing the order because of too much static on the radio, or something like that.

For the record, there was no snow and the roads were safe.

After the presentation of the colors, the five Army, three Air Force and one Navy junior ROTC units prepare for inspection and a very strange thing happens.

Deputy Squadron Cmdr. Scott McDonald, an 18-year-old senior, dismisses 14 people from the 26-member formation. Talk about change! In the old days, everybody had to stand inspection. One mistake and no three-day passes for anybody.

Commander McDonald has it easy. He picks squadron members with neat uniforms, the best shined shoes, the best polished brass and the most military-looking haircuts to stand in formation for inspection. Jaime, with her hair in a French braid, sits this one out.

It's not all a piece of cake, though.

The inspecting officers also ask questions. They ask, "Who's your commander-in-chief? Who's the secretary of defense? What's the nation's highest military medal?"

Commander McDonald feels pretty good about his squad's appearance and is pretty sure they gave the right answers to most of the questions: President Clinton, Secretary of Defense Les Aspin, and the Medal of Honor.

One question was a stumper, though: "Who's the highest ranking enlisted person in the Air Force?"

"We didn't study that," Commander McDonald says sadly.

"The event everyone enjoys most," says Jaime, "is the marching exhibition. It's a combination of dancing and military marching -- sort of like dancing to rap."

For this event, the Oakland Mills marchers wear white spats, white scarves over their ties, and gloves that are white on the knuckle side and red on the palm side.

As Theresa McBean, a 16-year-old junior, prepares to put her exhibition drill team of nine young women and five young men through their paces, front-line marcher Detra Ayers breaks the tension. "You nervous?" the 16-year-old junior asks. "I'm not! I'm never going to see these people [in the audience] again."

Everyone laughs and suddenly, they're on. Doing a rhythmic, toe-tapping, side-slapping, synchronized dance-and-march routine. Two members lose a spat in the quick-step, but never miss a beat. Troupers all, they gave a spirited performance.

Sergeant Bowman, who is more coach than drill instructor, had told them to "concentrate!" "Keep in step!" And they had. "It's their idea, their innovation, their routine," he says. "I simply observe -- make suggestions about what to keep, what not to keep. They do the work and maintain their own discipline."

Maintain their own discipline? This isn't even your brother's Air Force ROTC.

There's more. Sergeant Bowman helps his students get ROTC scholarships or appointments to one of the military academies.

Jaime is not sure if she wants to apply for an ROTC scholarship, but like Commander McDonald, she selects computer science as her second choice of study. Her first choice is fire protection engineering.

Sergeant Bowman also helps those who are not going to college, but might like a military career. Junior ROTC will cut their basic training time in half and assure them a double promotion to the rank of airman first class.

That is definitely not what happened in your father's Air Force. Tell him he should have waited.

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