Almost 700 Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps cadets filed into the gymnasium and band rooms of Marietta High School off Whitlock Avenue for a drill and color guard meet.
A normal meet is around 15 teams, said Lt. Col. James Wilson, a senior aerospace science instructor and faculty advisor for the Marietta High School team. On Saturday, Marietta High School played host to 19 schools.
Wilson said the local team was able to hold such a large event due to the help of the sponsor, the American Legion Post 296 out of Marietta.
It is the fourth year the Blue Devils have played host to the “Drill Meet Classic.”
The cadets performed in several categories divided into two areas, unarmed and armed. The latter has drills that call for a presentation of weapons. Some drills are “regulation” where multiple steps are performed in an exact sequence, Wilson said.
Other drills are “exhibition” drills, which allow the cadets to develop a unique routine that will not be the same as any other team, Wilson said. The drills range from five to eight minutes.
The drill team
Although each school is one team, Marietta has more than 300 cadets competing in two units, Wilson said.
“We have one of the larger programs around,” Wilson said.
Wilson said because of the “great amount of participation,” the Marietta High School AFJROTC program is essentially divided into varsity and junior varsity squads.
Wilson said a cadet can advance in to the “varsity” team by showing maturity and military bearing, or standing at attention without losing focus by reacting to the environment or moving.
Inside a team, a cadet can move up in rank by showing discipline and commitment, while bad behavior can mean a loss in position, Wilson said.
“Kids these days like to be promoted,” Wilson said.
Wilson added that the AFJROTC also allows students to work as a team and develop camaraderie, similar to what is found in sports programs at a high school.
As a team, the cadets keep each other in line by setting a positive examples for one another and stressing accountability.
Wilson said one highlight from Saturday’s meet was Marietta High School taking second place in the armed exhibition drill competition.
For that drill, Phillip Colburn, son of Marietta High School Principal Leigh Colburn, was selected as outstanding commander. Colburn also placed third in dual exhibition competition with Dolin Cooper.
The armed forces
Wilson, who started Marietta’s High School AFJROTC program 12 years ago, was a cadet while in school in Enterprise, Ala.
Wilson, who served 23 years on active duty in the United States Air Force, said after retirement he wanted to give back to the program.
The AFJROTC is a “citizenship-building program,” Wilson said, and is not about enlisting students into the armed forces.
Still, Wilson did point to opportunities given to past Marietta cadets, a few of whom are in the United States Air Force Academy and are being selected for pilot training.
Colton Atkinson, a junior who is in his third year with the Marietta AFJROTC program, said the competitions require attention to detail.
“You have to be very precise in what you do,” Atkinson said.
Atkinson said he hopes to join the United States Coast Guard as a search and rescue pilot because of the branch’s mission to help people in disaster situations.
As a cadet captain, Atkinson said the first step to moving up as an officer is learning to “command people, take charge and get things done.”
Atkinson said the key to gaining respect as a captain from his fellow classmates and peers is to lead by example.
Women in uniform
Half of the Marietta High School cadets are young women, Wilson said, which is a larger percentage than when he was a cadet.
Wilson said the growing number is because more women are signing up for the Armed Forces, as well as taking on leadership positions in the community in general.
Biannca Drayton, a senior at Marietta High School, is a Cadet Chief Master Sergeant, which is the ninth and highest listed rank.
Drayton said she has been in the JROTC for four years and said the meets are fun, but competitive, and a chance to bond with her teammates while meeting new people.
“I have gained a lot of self-respect and patience,” Drayton said.
Drayton said she has gained knowledge about the Air Force and what duties are performed by certain officers at a particular rank.
Her goal is to obtain a nursing degree, and then enlist in the Air Force.