Category Archives: Drill Teams

Information for drill teams of all kinds

Resistance to Change: Betrayal?

DSC_0443_963x2559I felt the need to follow up the article that published last week, Resistance to Change: The Five Monkeys Syndrome.

My help is sought out on a consistent basis from high school and college drill teams and also first responder honor guard units. I teach courses and, when asked, also give free advice over the phone, through email or on videos on any subject in the Military Drill World.

The picture at right is from my book, The Honor Guard Manual, I purposefully did not wear gloves for the pictures so that readers could see the exact positioning of my hands and fingers.

I also give advice to many others even when they don’t ask. Those results are 80%-20%. The 80% is people receive the advice in a positive manner, the 20% is the opposite. I don’t know if those numbers are exact, I haven’t accomplished a scientific study, it’s a guess, really- most people do receive the advice very well and sometimes it leads to a great conversation and then…

Not long ago, I had a brief conversation on one of my social media accounts with an individual. He was nice enough but presented the argument of, “We like the way we do what we do.” It was a small issue really, but one that I felt needed to be fleshed out, I don’t want anyone in the honor guard community to not look as professional as possible.

How the conversation went:

Indiv: So, we need to change just because you say so?

DM: No, not at all, just want you to be as professional as possible.

Indiv: That’s your opinion.

DM: That’s right and it is based on over 25 years of experience.

Indiv: There is more than one way to render honors.

DM: True and sometimes there is a better way.

Indiv: There is a nice way to approach it.

DM: And what way would that be? Advice can be seen as an attack. People are trained a certain way and feel it is best. Another says there is a better, sharper way and the person feels if he changes or even agrees he is betraying his trainers.

A national standard did not exist for first responder honor guard units until I published my book, The Honor Guard Manual, in 2011. Who am I to establish a national standard? I am just a guy who saw the need, that’s all. No one is forced to adopt every single movement described in the manual; the manual is there for use and if a team chooses to use all, some or none of it, that is completely up to them, it doesn’t bother me. I will always make suggestions, however, and whether those suggestions are adopted or not, is not my concern.

Besides the, “Well, that’s the way we have always done it” mentality, a sense of betrayal is why some changes will never be made, for the better in my opinion, for some teams. And that’s too bad.

Resistance to Change: The Five Monkeys Syndrome

stages_of_resistance_to_change1Even if you are a cadet in high school JROTC or in Sea Cadet, Young Marines, etc. you may have come across this syndrome. If you are an adult, you most definitely have come across this. Please watch this short video before reading on and it will explain. Image courtesy of Sharon Browning and Associates.

Now, we are not talking about “Change for change’s sake” that’s just plain useless. Many organizations have tools in place for use by their members to afford the opportunity to review processes and then implement better ideas.

When we come to the Military Drill World, there is plenty to learn that has not been taught and ways of teaching that have not been used. But we encounter the mindset of, “The military (collectively) has been around for over 200 years! We are doing just fine, thank you.” The fact is that many soloists, JROTC, ROTC and even CAP, Sea Cadets and other units are not “just fine” and need differing levels of help in the form of education and guidance. Still, many are too stubborn to accept constructive criticism or seek help.

Service and Military Bias is quite prevalent as well. Service Bias is when a member of one service will not budge on any issue if it comes from outside his/her scope of training. Military Bias is when a service member does not accept any form of training that was not developed or used by the military in general. The education and training of cadets could be advanced quite a bit if only some would understand.

I am not equating anyone or any group to being monkeys. The video only shows the progress and results of a scientific study.

The military, at the end of WWII, fostered the pageantry arts, drum and bugle corps and marching bands, which led to indoor color guard as well and other arts. An issue arose in the early 1970s regarding the control that the military (veteran organizations) had over competitions and judging. You see, those involved in the pageantry arts who did not have that military background- and even a few who did- began to take their groups into new levels of performance which left the rigid rules of the military behind – though the foundational training remained and was added to. For decades the foundation was laid by the military men and women and they needed to let these organizations grow and learn on their own and even grow and learn with them, but the veterans didn’t grow and learn. Eventually, those who were staffing the groups in the pageantry arts did not deal with the military men and women. The military roots are still held in high regard and many lessons are still taught today, but they are mixed with the higher-level education and training that is seen in high school marching bands and drum corps across the USA and even around the world as the education and training began spreading in the early 1980s.

The point is, being open to new ideas- or at least ideas that are new to you- is a good thing. If these ideas work well, everyone wins. If these ideas do not seem to work for your organization, then there is nothing lost as you at least tried.

“That’s the way we’ve always done it,” is such a horrible statement to hear, don’t be the one to say it.

The Air Force Baser Honor Guard Badge

The Base Honor Guard (BHG) Badge, known as the “Cookie” is a device that only Active Duty, Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard Airmen wear when they are assigned to a BHG. Not even retirees can wear it unless they are actively working with a BHG.

I went through two weeks of honor guard training many years ago (1990) when I was stationed at Davis-Monthan AFB in Tucson, AZ. I then spent about fourteen of my twenty years of Active Duty on several BHGs around the globe and even attended Air Force Honor Guard training in Washington DC in 2002. I had to meet certain criteria for award of my BHG Cookie as all Airmen have to. In a personal way, the Cookie is “my” badge and all Airmen who have gone through the training and qualified can call it “my badge” as well.

BHG PictureThe picture at right is of a Spangdahlem Air Base (Germany) Honor Guard presenting the colors at St. Mihiel WWI American Military Cemetery in France in 2010, five years after I retired. I am the NCT and my friends and colleagues are with me. We are all wearing our uniform accouterments (which color bearers no longer wear) including our Cookies. You can see them on our left breast pockets of our blouses. I actually trained the two guards and knew they were qualified to wear their BHG Cookies.

What does BHG training entail so that a graduate of the training is then awarded and authorized to wear the Cookie? The training last at least 40 hours and consists of:

  1. What we call Standing Manual
  2. Colors
  3. Firing party
  4. Pall Bearers (including 2- and 6-man* Flag Fold) *”man” means position.

There are also small bases in the Air Force, mostly overseas, that are not authorized a BHG, but have what is called a Base Color Guard that is aligned under a BHG (the Spangdahlem BHG has at least one BCC at a location in Belgium). A BCC, is a small unit that is not authorized to wear the complete BHG uniform, but a variation of the standard AF uniform with the BHG aiguillette and Cookie. Any Airman assigned to either of these two units, who has gone through the training and qualified, may then wear the BHG Cookie on their BHG or BCC uniform. When they are assigned to the BHG, but not on rotation and are in blues, they may also wear the Cookie. When not assigned to a BHG, an Airman may not wear the Cookie- which is why I do not wear mine.

JROTC cadets wearing BHG CookieWhat is quite troubling to me is seeing Air Force Junior ROTC cadets wearing “my” badge. This is absolutely inexcusable with some equating it to Stolen Valor. I don’t know if I would go that far, but I have a very stern opinion about the wear of my badge by high school cadets.

Click here to see that I have dealt with this before and the picture at left, above, is what started it. The team finally realized after much discussion back and forth that they had absolutely no authority whatsoever to wear the Cookie.

Cadet BHG Cookie - CopyThe cadet at right chose to block another cadet on Instagram who was trying to communicate to her that the Cookie that she has on her uniform is not authorized for cadets to wear. Many cadets, possibly out of arrogance, do not want to listen to anyone who says that what they are doing could possibly be wrong.

New AFJROTC Drill Team Uniform Policy

AFJROTCHQ USAF JROTC decided that the nondescript uniforms that some drill teams developed over the years are no longer authorized.

As the DrillMaster, do I agree with the decision? Yes. No. Well, yes. I do agree that the Air Force needs to be better represented across the nation and around the world at high school drill competitions. But I also disagree to some extent.

How could I disagree when I’m a retired USAF NCO and have been working with JROTC units since approximately 1990? Easily. There are three different types of military drill:

  1. Regulation Drill (RD)
  2. Exhibition Drill (XD)
  3. Ceremonial Drill (CD)

Regulation Drill covers three of the phases of a drill competition: Inspection, Regulation, and Color Guard. The fourth phase of a competition is Exhibition Drill. This may be news to some, but there are two types of exhibition drill:

  1. “Standard” Exhibition Drill (SXD)
  2. Ceremonial Exhibition Drill (CXD)

“Standard” Exhibition Drill?
What I labeled as SXD (for lack of a better term at the moment) is all of the XD you have ever seen at a high school competition- all of the weird and wild things that some people love and others love to hate: spinning a rifle while laying down on the ground, stacking team members on rifles, etc. All the out-of-the-box moves that you would expect from many high school teams. The out-of-box thinking has now been given a big blow since wearing the complete uniform is going to demand more of a professional flavor- this is especially true for unarmed teams.

Ceremonial Exhibition Drill?
Think of college ROTC teams, or, much more to the point, the service honor guard drill teams in and around Washinton DC. You will never see any of the service drill teams perform about 90% of the moves that high school teams perform. Why? Mainly because of their unit’s mission. CXD has a “laid-back intensity” and extremely professional. Much of the rifle moves of today’s JROTC drill teams would not work well with full service dress, even with the slight modifications that are allowed.

Here is the text of the policy letter dated 8 May 15

MEMORANDUM FOR ALL AFJROTC & NDCC UNITS

SUBJECT: Drill Team Uniform Policy

1. This policy letter establishes guidance regarding US Air Force distinctive drill uniforms.

2. Drill competitions are an important extracurricular activity in AFJROTC that teach a number of important lessons to our cadets and complement our program objectives of citizen development. It is important that AFJROTC cadets represent the Air Force during competitions. By 1 March 2016, all AFJROTC and NDCC drill team uniforms to include exhibition uniforms must be a distinctive Air Force dress uniform and must be a combination of the Air Force blue uniform (blue pants/skirts, light blue shirt, and/or blue service dress coat). ABUs may be worn only with approved ABU headgear. Units may accessorize drill team uniforms with berets, ascots, shoulder cord, and a silver, white, blue, black, or grey stripe on the pants if desired.
3. Units are required to submit uniform waiver requests in order to receive approval of exhibition drill team uniforms. A waiver request with 2 photos (profile and full front view) must be submitted in WINGS, approved, and on file before competing in any drill competition.

4. These changes will be placed in the next revision of Chapter 7, Uniform and Awards, Operations Supplement that can be found in WINGS / Published Files / Directory / JROTC / Operational Supplements. HQ AFJROTC will coordinate this change with Sports Network International who will incorporate the change into their drill competition Standard Operating Procedures.

5. These changes will ensure that the Air Force is properly represented at drill competitions by the wearing of uniforms that are Air Force distinctive and cannot be mistaken for another service. If you have any questions or concerns regarding this change, please contact your Regional Director.

And it is signed by the AFJROTC Director, Colonel Bobby C. Woods, Jr.

What is “Readability”?

1e6497f5-c07b-41de-93a5-a17f0bff64ca.jpgReadability describes something that we can easily read. We get that. When we pick up a newspaper or look at a magazine article, we find it easy to read and comprehend, in general. We can read a master’s degree thesis and find complex words, phrases and sentence structure. On the other hand, we can look at a child’s first paper and see that it is very difficult to read and not just because of the child’s inability to draw the letters well. The same goes for a visual performance.

The three types of drill in the military are, regulation (RD), ceremonial (CD) and exhibition (XD). All require readability, but XD is where it comes into play since this type of drill is strictly performance-based. For ease of explanation, I will talk about RD, but it can be applied to CD and XD.

It’s about Communication 
Take a look at the picture above. Notice the stripe on the skirt/trouser leg, cover (hat) and the white gloves. These make certain movements and positions stand out. Look at the hand positions, leg angles and the height of the feet. We see mostly the same positions with a small variation here and there. This is fairly clear communication or, readability. This means we can see what the team is doing and we can understand and appreciate it. This is a picture of one moment in time. Now let’s use our imagination.

Envision yourself executing the following sequence: you execute a Right Face and let your hands swing out a little as you use your shoulders to help you (a common new Driller move). Your shoulders and hands moving create movement that hinders communication, clarity and sharpness.

Now, envision this: you are at Port Arms going to Order. You reach up with your right hand, grasp the rifle to pull it down and as you let go with your left, your left drifts over to your left side and then moves to the rifle muzzle. You then rest the rifle on the deck and cut your left to your side to Attention. That indecisive left arm movement creates confusion as to where it should go creating confusion.

Imagine you are executing the 15-Count Manual, Arms sequence. Imagine that your hands never reach your sides when you are at either shoulder, but stop a few inches away from your trouser seam. This means you are not completing each position’s movements like you should. This completely blurs clarity and greatly hinders communication. This usually happens when the Driller is concentrating on completing the sequence in order near the beginning of learning the manual of arms.

And now, if you are an exhibition Driller, imagine not completing moves or positions, as described above for the 15-Count Manual. This is very common for Drillers as they progress.

You create clear communication by completing moves and by executing movements sharply. It isn’t simple at first because you have multiple responsibilities* going on at the same time. Eventually though, as you progress, you learn to balance those responsibilities and create effective drill.

*Multiple Responsibilities are what you have to consider all at the same time, while performing: marching with your feet straight while at attention, using proper arm swing, staying aligned to the front and side, staying in step, executing movements at the right time, etc.

Post High School Exhibition Drill

Post High School DrillUntil about 2005, there were not very many post-high school soloists, or at least high school graduates who loved to spin a rifle and could compete or perform in public. Nothing really existed for Drillers except for New Guard America (NGA) which began in the 1990s under the direction of my college friend, Constantine Wilson. Other than that, nothing really existed.

That is until 2007/8. Michael, a friend of mine for several years now, had an idea to host the first independent exhibition drill competition for solo and tandem Drillers, the birth of the New York Drill Competition (NYDC). The first NYDC had the competitors judging each other with score sheets developed by me. The next few years saw me flying in to help judge with others sing updated World Drill Association score sheets that I was refining. Those years also saw the creation of the Texas Drill Competition (TXDC), North Carolina Drill Competition (NCDC)- both of which I judged, and the Florida Drill Competition (FLDC). The only consistent online competition has been the Michigan Online Drill Competition (MIODC, look it up on Facebook) which I have been thrilled to judge since its inception.

Also in 2007 was the Isis World Drill Championships (“Isis” has since been removed), sponsored by Sports Network International. And let’s not forget about NGA’s Pro America competition, but this competition was blade-only and you had to go through an audition.

While competitions were burgeoning many high school Drillers who loved to drill finally saw some hope of continuing with their passion for armed exhibition drill once they graduated.

How to “Break Into” Post-High School Drill
There are no secrets. It’s about practicing and practicing until you have the ability to compete at the professional level. You will also want to consider drilling with a bayonet. I am not one of those who says that drill without a bayonet isn’t “real”- not that anyone really says that but there are a few purists out there who do not like facsimile rifles or, for that matter, drilling stub (without a bayonet).

Bladed Drill
Read about the DrillMaster Bayonet here. Before you even think about going bladed:

  • You really should be at least 16- 18 years old is even better.
  • You need to have several years (at least four years is a good rule of thumb) of exhibition drill under your belt.

Your next step is to then go to a competition. You may have to travel, but it will be worth it to meet other Drillers, face time (not the app) is the perfect way to help you get known by others. Now repeat what I wrote: practice and practice and then compete. When you need feedback on your performance, other Drillers are usually more than happy to give advice since many want to see our activity grow. And there is always me, I offer DrillMaster Audio Performance Critiques (an MP3 of my comments based on the World Drill Association Adjudication system which you can download) for performances and advice about moves and short sequences.

Physical and Psychological Performance Preparation

Preserving the pattern of the “P”, your positive pre-reading program, precluding any possible problems: peruse The Difference Between Practice and Training and The Difference Between Practice and Rehearsal. Please also read, Having a complete Plan for a Performance and, from the Civil Air Patrol angle, How to Plan and Coordinate a Color Guard Event.

Now that we have given Ps a chance, let’s get on with the primary polestar of this piece. Sorry, I couldn’t help myself…

b2b83f0a-80bf-4e06-a2fd-d102d833adbd.jpgPhysical Preparation
The aspect of this article is not on a performer’s endurance of physical strength, this is about what you actually do right before the performance.

Competitive drill teams and color teams (guards): Let’s say you are up north and have a competition in a high school gymnasium or field house. These two buildings offer a large amount of space for competitions when the snow is piled up outside or the rain is pouring down. So, in this case, what does your team actually do prior to the performance? You need to map out and practice your entrance to the competition area. Just having the team wander over and form up at the sideline is not going to set the stage properly at all.

Along with that notion is giving thought to the butt of the rifle that you are carrying. Does it have a metal plate on the bottom? If so, you may have to slip something over it or reverse the butt plate, if the ability exists, to the rubber side to protect the school’s shiny basketball court floor.

Are you performing in a parking lot? This is the standard in the southwestern states, what I grew up with. In many other states, including the southeast, competitions are on football fields and other grassy areas. Where you will perform may dictate a change in your performance. As an example, you may want to move from practicing in your school’s parking lot and moving to a grassy area for the week or two prior to the next competition that will be on a grass field. Keeping aware of your team’s upcoming competition and any changes you may encounter will help you prepare to do your best even with those changes.

ae14e23b-517f-40ad-b035-717b41667849.jpgHonor guard ceremonial performances: Arrive at the ceremony at least one hour prior to performance time. Scout out the area, identify where you will setup, form up and perform. Also know where and how you will exit and, if there is another part to the ceremony, say a funeral where the deceased is transported from the ME to the funeral home to the chapel and then to the cemetery, practice what you will need to do at each location. It can be a tall order, but it will pay off when, after the ceremony is finished, you can rest assured that you gave your 100% and prepared as much as possible.

Psychological Preparation
Rely on your training. You have trained, practiced and rehearsed and now the moment comes to where you put all of that together and produce the fruit of all of those hours in front of a few or a thousand people.

c76622f7-c81a-4de9-894d-0f722cbafb88.jpgLearning to drop is an article that I wrote mainly for exhibition soloists and drill teams, but it applies to every group that performs, whether that performance is in front of the next of kin at a funeral or in a friendly competition. Learn to take mistakes in stride, never broadcast a mistake by throwing up your hands, making a sigh, or even your eyes widening. Go on and recover as if nothing happened. Chances are that barely anyone will notice the mistake. The mistake does not matter, it is already in the past, time to move on and finish. Learn from that mistake for the next time. Do you notice the problem in the above picture?

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The Difference Between Accuracy and Precision

This video can be of great help to you in training.

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Drill Team and Honor Guard Training, Part 2

ff785d98-1551-4a5f-a934-bb218127ea61.jpgTraining, Practice and Rehearsal, three different types of well, practice. Here is an article on the Difference Between Practice and Rehearsal and an article on the Difference Between Practice and Training.

Whether you are on a first responder or military honor guard or a JROTC/ROTC drill team, your responsibilities are the same to a point: develop your skills, keep them sharp and, if you can, learn new skills.

How to Run a Competitive Drill Team Practice
You must cover these areas at drill team practice: Inspection, Regulation Drill and Exhibition Drill. There is one other area to cover whether drill team members or other cadets, color team (color guard). If the color team members are also drill team members then, obviously, you will have to have these cadets practice their sequence either on their own or for part of the drill team practice.

Scheduling your time between platoon/flight and squad/element regulation sequences, then moving on to the exhibition sequence and even then working in color team(s) into the mix can be quite a challenge.

Inspection
Find out the layout of the next competition’s inspection area and work to enter and exit the area with the team.

I remember when I marched on my JROTC team and we had a very small room (on purpose) for the inspection area. We marched 17 members with fourth squad entering first, then third, second, first and me last, the commander. The team formed up at the back of the room with just enough space for the judge to walk behind 4th element and we opened ranks perfectly and then it began. What I do not remember is how we exited. Practice marching into a small area/room by squad/element using “(Column of Files) File from the Right” command.

We did very well my four years on the team because we had dedicated cadets and, what was even more important, we had dedicated instructors.

Regulation Drill
Armed and unarmed platoon/flight and squad/element sequences can take the least amount of practice if you have created a solid foundation of drill and ceremonies in your JROTC program. All cadets should at least be familiar with all stationary drill (standing manual), flanks and columns. Proper execution of each movement is key and then working on alignment and distance should follow.

All team members should read applicable D&C manuals and the Commander(s) should eat, sleep and breathe the regulation sequence command list until it is completely memorized.

Colors
The color team is part of regulation drill, but needs very specific attention. The uncase and case parts of the sequence must be accomplished per a mixture of the Army Training Circular and your service’s D&C manual. Yes, a mixture.

Exhibition Drill
This is also where that solid D&C foundation will help, plus personal practice time. Creating an effective routine takes time, teaching it takes time and, finally, practicing it takes time.

All of the parts of a drill competition take a great deal of time and you must find a balance. If your teams practice for two hours every day after school, you will be able to find that balance with relative ease. If you practice Tuesdays and Thursdays for an hour-and-a-half, that balance will be more difficult- but it is doable.

What do I recommend? Start early- even during the summer and teach new cadets all they must know for regulation drill to be perfect in their execution. Then, run through those regulation sequences twice a week to keep them fresh in everyone’s memory, with the rest of the time spent on exhibition.

Lastly, give 100%, 100% of the time. Each time you practice make that practice seem like a performance on the competition field and be professional. If you can do your best with the resources you have and come in 8th place and still know that you gave your all, trophies will never matter.

Outstanding Unarmed Exhibition Drill

Many JROTC drill teams here in America have yet to consider unarmed drill on this scale. I encourage you to explore drill on this level with your team whether armed or not.

The gentleman calling the commands has been doing this for years and has increased the complexity of the program with each new team.