JROTC troops hit Coliseum for drill competition

Some of the most precise teenagers in the Eastern time zone are in Macon this weekend.

The two-day Junior Reserve Officer Training Program Drill Championships are being held at the Macon Coliseum. On Friday, the Air Force JROTC Eastern Drill Championships were decided. The Army JROTC teams will face off today.

The championships bring several hundred students with 78 teams from 52 schools — from as far south as Miami, to as far north as Lowell, Mass. — together to see which team can march with the sharpest precision and mirror synchronization. They are graded on how they march — with and without a rifle.

The participants don’t have to cut their hair short, but most chose that look. They ran lint brushes over each other’s shoulders before marching out in front of the judges. One student walked to the restroom with sharp pivots, mimicking his marching style.

The boys are clean-shaven, if they needed to shave at all.

“It’s a big deal,” said retired Chief Master Sgt. Richard Whitcher, who coaches the Dutchtown High School team from Hampton. “At the beginning of the school year, this is one of our goals.”

Many of the students were referred into the JROTC by their guidance counselors or their parents.

“We teach them the facts of life,” Whitcher said.

Of his 107 JROTC students, Whitcher expects about 5 percent to actually join the military. The purpose behind the JROTC program is not to recruit the students into the military, he insists.

“This program has pretty much helped me get out of trouble,” said Tommie Book, an 18-year-old cadet from Hopkins County Central High School in Madisonville, Ky.

Book is one of the students who do plan on going into uniform. He will be on his way to Navy basic training this summer after he graduates from high school.

Judy Jackson, a retired lieutenant colonel from Robins Air Force Base, coaches the Houston County High School JROTC team. Not surprisingly, many of her students are sons and daughters of Robins airmen.

The military-style methods of instruction are nothing new to the Houston County High School team.

“You have to treat them with respect,” Jackson said. “We try to instill discipline, but they are someone else’s kids.”

If Reece Walker, 16, is any indication of how disciplined her team is, Jackson doesn’t have a whole lot of work to do.

Walker is his team’s commander, and it may not be the last time he is in command.

“I feel as if the military is meant for me,” Walker said. He is finishing up his junior year at Houston County High School. Next year, when he starts looking at colleges, he said he plans to apply for Air Force ROTC programs.

In the end, the Houston County squad came up short for the overall championships, but they did place in a few subcategories.

The teams from East Paulding High School in Dallas, Ga., and Lackey High School in Indian Head, Md., won the armed and unarmed championships, respectively.

The Eastern championships have rotated between Macon and the Washington, D.C., area. This is the third year of the last six that Macon has hosted the event.

The Western championships were recently held in San Antonio, and the JROTC National Drill Championships will be held in Daytona, Fla., in May.

To contact writer Thomas L. Day, call 744-4489.