NJROTC regional meet comes to Oak Harbor
By REBECCA OLSON
Whidbey News Times Staff reporter
April 24, 2012 · Updated 2:22 PM
It meant commitment to early morning practices and hard work at Saturday meets, plus the discipline, leadership and precision expected of students in the Naval Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps. But their perseverance paid off as the Oak Harbor High School NJROTC Wildcat Battalion qualified for the regional meet, which will be held at Oak Harbor High School Saturday, April 28.
The public is welcome to watch the all-day competition.
Wildcat Battalion finished their season as division champions in five out of six categories: Color Guard #1, Color Guard #2, Armed Drill Team, Unarmed Drill Team and Air Rifle Team. Physical Strength Team #1 placed second overall in the division and Physical Strength Team #2 placed fourth; both qualified for the regional meet. In addition, Oak Harbor will have representatives in the Individual (Devin Peterson) and Dual (Josh Koorn and Peterson) Armed Exhibition Drill.
NJROTC curriculum teaches citizenship, leadership and naval history. Students also participate in drill meets. Of the 32 schools in the conference, only the top four division finishers move on to regionals.
While their 6:30 a.m. practices prove their dedication, the students are clearly passionate about the program and eager to spread the word, as many students joined at the recommendation of friends.
Wildcat Battalion Commander Joyce Abides, a senior, said she joined NJROTC because a friend in the program suggested it.
“I just got hooked,” Abides said. Now, she has earned the highest student position as commander, a hefty responsibility that requires much organization, coordination and planning.
Abides, who said that Unarmed Drill Team became her main drive to stay in the program, described a drill meet. Students stand at attention while they are inspected and tested by members of various military branches. They must also perform a list of drill orders.
Exhibition is the time for the teams to display the movements they’ve practiced for months. For Unarmed Drill Team, students memorize drill moves and perform them as a group, with an emphasis on precision and moving well together, Abides said.
Senior Josh Koorn is the commander of the Armed Drill Team. He recently enlisted in the Army.
“I heard ROTC was a great thing to get into,” Koorn said, adding that it provides leadership and discipline.
Armed Drill Team consists of spinning and throwing rifles in unison. To prepare for regionals, Koorn has been teaching the team new spins, how to toss their rifles higher and he added some tougher moves to the end of their exhibition.
Sophomore Amanda Simpson is also on the Armed Drill Team. She attributed her reason for joining NJROTC to the movie “Cadet Kelly,” in which a teenaged girl who is forced to join a military school thrives on the drill team.
“At almost 8 years old, I thought, ‘I want to do that someday. I want to do that when I get in high school,’” Simpson said. While it gets tough juggling classes, late-night homework and early-morning practices, “It’s worth it. It’s probably my favorite class here,” Simpson said.
Many people think the program is overly disciplined, “but really, the program is fun,” Koorn said of NJROTC.
“I learned a lot about honor in the program,” Koorn said, adding that his grade point average increased after he joined NJROTC.
“It helps you become a better citizen overall,” Abides said of the NJROTC program. Not only does the program teach discipline and leadership but it also teaches national history.
“Because not that many people know who the secretary of state or defense are,” Abides said.
The Distinguished Unit Award is presented to the top ROTC units in the nation, an honor OHHS has received numerous times. One perk of having such an acclaimed program is that the school principal is given an additional three appointments to the United States Naval Academy, West Point and the Air Force Academy, allowing more Oak Harbor students the chance to study at these distinguished schools --- as long as they still earn the grades to get in.
NJROTC students also earn opportunities like performing color guard duties for the Mariners’ first game of the season each year, which students Rebecca Holloman and sisters Therese Desquitado and Tricia Desquitado participated in last year.
Some of the aspects of the program most appreciated by the students are their personal growth and the friends they’ve made.
Junior Mat Sypert grew personally through the program, a sentiment echoed by other students, including Therese Desquitado.
“It helped me be a lot more open,” Sypert said.
“I think it also helps build up confidence,” Therese Desquitado said, adding that she was scared to join her first year, but after that, she opened up, became more outgoing and now feels she can show who she is as a person.
Through the many hours of practice and class time, the students said they’ve grown together.
Despite the challenging and competitive nature of the program, the students and teachers always end up feeling like a family, Holloman said.
NJROTC instructors Chief Bill Thiel and Commander Mike Black are always there for the students, Koorn said.
“We pretty much become part of a family. We’re all friends in this unit,” Koorn said.
Contact Whidbey News Times Staff reporter Rebecca Olson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360-675-6611 ext. 5052.