In the middle of the first annual U.S. Marine Corps Junior ROTC (MCJROTC) National Drill Championships, cadet captain Carola Murguia had tapered expectations. Despite her unit winning their region a month earlier and advancing to the national stage, she was just happy to be competing against the best schools in the country.
“We’re expecting to not get last,” she joked. “I think we’ll do really well. We prepared, we put the hard work in, so now it’s just waiting for everybody else to see that we worked for it. We’re here to show everybody that we deserve to be here just as much as you.”
Murguia, who is from College Park High School just outside of Houston, and her team were one of 15 units from across the country that gathered at the inaugural championship, held on Saturday, April 22 at Irving High School.
256 competitive drill teams from across the nation competed in regional rounds, and the top three from five regions advanced to this past weekend’s championship. The championship round consisted of seven events, including inspection platoon, armed and unarmed regulation drill, armed and unarmed exhibition drill, color guard, and academics.
During the academics event, ten cadets per team took a 100 question multiple-choice test in 20 minutes with questions ranging from what they learned in their curriculum to current events. Regulation events are dictated, having to be done in a certain order at a certain time, but the exhibition events allow students to work together and create under the advisement of their unit instructor.
Schools were limited to 40 cadets, including a minimum of 13 cadets in the armed and unarmed exhibition and regulation drills.
Preparation for teams began back in January when a drill card was issued. Practice for the top-level teams routinely lasted for one to two hours a day including some weekends. All qualifying schools needed to submit a pre-registration entry form to Sgt. Major Willie Martin at Irving High School by April 10.
“It was a team effort,” Murguia said. “Everybody had different ideas. We figured out what worked best and who was best at explaining it. It was definitely a giant team effort.”
The JROTC program was set up by the United States Armed Forces in high schools and middle schools across the United States in 1916 as part of the National Defense Act. Most students who are part of the program, however, do not end up enlisting.
“It’s not about joining the military,” College Park High School Principal Mark Murrell said. “It’s not about a recruitment tactic by the armed services. It’s about taking young kids and teaching them the good values that they should have in their lives, so they can be productive citizens later on and be supportive.”
In the past, MCJROTC units have competed in drill competitions across the nation, but this event is the first time that all units have the opportunity to compete on the same stage.
The event culminated in a final awards ceremony and overall national championship. Each event presented an award to the top three schools or individuals. This year, Murguia won the best armed drill team commander with a perfect score and her school, College Park High School, took home the inaugural overall champion trophy.
“What a JROTC does to a school and a community is incredible,” Murrell said. “You see it totally turn a kid around; a kid that’s a high-potential drop out, failing all of their classes. They get part of ROTC and then all of a sudden they find their leadership skills, and they are taken to the top. It’s an incredible program. What they do for young men and women, it’s a great deal for them.”