Pisgah JROTC rebuilds its drilling skills from the ground up

November 9 – Two years ago, a slew of experienced students ready to pass on their knowledge and skills to the next class filled out the Pisgah Navy JROTC program.

“You have a drill crew that works year after year,” Ret said. Captain F. Winston Shearin, III, Pisgah’s JROTC program instructor. “As the seniors graduate, the sophomores come in and learn the routine. Some know it and some learn it. One group teaches the other.”

The COVID pandemic has changed everything.

“Our seniors graduated without teaching anyone in 2020,” Shearin said. “The following year, in 2021, the seniors graduated without teaching anyone.”

This year, Shearin and the program inherited an entire class of cadets — including 43 freshmen — who knew nothing about drilling, color guarding or any other crucial part of a JROTC unit.

“We’re excited about the years ahead because we believe we’ll have a nice, strong foundation as we rebuild,” Shearin said.

Over the summer, Pisgah hosted two week-long events to jump-start learning among cadets.

“We had about half of our kids here,” Shearin said. “We worked daily on learning the exercises from scratch. We practically started again this year.”

This zero-start approach has already begun to bear fruit, underscoring the dedication of the young cadets.

“We competed last weekend in our first drill competition and took third place,” Shearin said. The contest was hosted by Southeast Guilford High School in Greensboro, widely known as Falcon Fury.

Team Pisgah’s third place finish is even more impressive considering that 15 other high schools participated in the event.

“We felt really good going into our first competition. The teams that beat us were strong schools in the area,” Shearin said.

In a drill competition, cadets get off the buses at 7 a.m. at the host school – a three-hour drive from Pisgah – and at 8 a.m. 16 cadets sit down for an academic test.

The academic test is one of many events that take place on this day, including the color guard, exhibition, and fancy drills. Each exercise earns the team points for the general classification of the competition.

“Then we have a fitness contest — push-ups, sit-ups, a 100-meter relay race,” Shearin said.

Only 40 cadets can participate from each school, Shearin said, “but because our unit is restarting, we only have 22 kids on our drill team.”

Teams from North Carolina and South Carolina compete in sanctioned drills, all trying to secure first place and the ability to level up.

“If you win first or second place, you’re invited to the next level — the region’s drill meet,” Shearin said.

Drill teams travel to compete again Dec. 3 at Myrtle Beach High School in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, where they hope to qualify for the next level.

However, Pisgah’s JROTC program is more than just a drill team. The program includes many competitions, including marksmanship events, orienteering and more.

“We try to run a balanced curriculum that engages kids in good citizenship,” Shearin said.

In October, the marksmanship team participated in a regional rifle game at McDowell High School. The unit also competed in the Air Force’s Cyber ​​Patriot competition.

“The challenge of this event is to take a computer network and make it safe from cyber attacks. A team of five cadets work together to secure the network,” Shearin said.

These drills and competitions help cadets learn the ways of JROTC, which culminated in a crescendo on Nov. 8.

The entire program participated in the 52nd Annual Area Director’s Inspection, during which cadets perform a “walk-through” parade and demonstrate their drill skills.

An area manager inspection is supposed to take place every two years, but this was the first in six years due to COVID disruptions to the schedule.

“So there’s not a kid here who remembers doing it,” Shearin said. “We had a reboot and we’re trying to teach the whole program.”

Several dignitaries were in attendance, including Township Mayor Zeb Smathers, Haywood County Schools Superintendent Dr. Trevor Putnam and Haywood County Sheriff Greg Christopher.

As with most things at JROTC, inspection has a competitive aspect. The top 30% of JROTC programs in North and South Carolina are designated distinguished units, Shearin said. The Sector Director’s inspection begins the annual cycle of accumulating points in order to be distinguished.

“We have distinguished ourselves over the past 28 years,” Shearin said. “We hope to be again this year.”

Dino J. Dotson