For Shock Platoon, every drill counts

 

Senior Shock Platoon commander Joseph Kim leads the drill through practice. Photo by Anthony Rodriguez.

On a brisk February afternoon at Norwich University’s Plumley Armory Gymnasium, the regimental drill team conducted a strenuous and intense three-hour practice.

Sweat, cuts, and bruises are left on team members as they take a quick break. The commander soon calls the members to “form up the block.”

“I remember the day they called out my name after try outs, and I was just so excited,” said Gabby Caouette, a sophomore engineering major in the Drill Company. “Look at me now – spending one of my Saturday’s to prepare for the biggest collegiate drill competition in the nation.”

On Mar. 1, 2019, the Norwich University Shock Platoon will compete at the Mardi Gras Drill Meet in New Orleans, La., and with just under a month before the competition, their goal is to represent Norwich in their highest form.

The trip starts on a very early Wednesday morning and goes all the way until that Sunday. The five-day excursion has students missing school but representing Norwich University in a very prestigious way.

Aiden Cruz, a 20-year-old junior computer security and information assurance major from San Antonio, Texas, said, “I already informed my professors ahead of time in order to catch up on any assignments possible. Missing three days of classes close to mid-semester is severe, but with proper coordination, won’t hurt me in the long run.”

The entire team along with the commandants stay at the condo of an alumnus, which helped cut the cost of the entire trip. It is funded through a budget that’s given to the drill company at the beginning of the year, he said.

“I don’t work much with the budget with the trip, but I know I’m grateful and privileged to be going on this expedition,” Caouette said, “at any other state school, I wouldn’t be getting this opportunity.”

Team practices a routine in Plumley. Picture by Andrew Thomas

The level of competition at the Mardi Gras Drill Meet is at a high caliber. Teams from West Point to Texas A&M compete, basically all the other service academies and senior military colleges.

“We’re the D-1 of drill you can say,” Cruz said.

“We practice vigorously six to even seven days a week, and the competition we face are well-known big schools from all over the country.”

Also known as the national collegiate drill championship, the Shock Platoon isn’t a stranger to being national champions, said Joshua Lewis, a 20-year-old junior and studies in war and peace major from Ft. Irwin, Calif.

“The last time we won was in 2010, so I think it’s about time we brought the title back to where it belongs,” Lewis said. “The team has huge potential for years to come.”

The process to achieve national champion status isn’t a walk in the park, with there being five events that compose the overall score.

The Shock Platoon commander is Joseph Kim, a 21-year-old senior civil engineering major from Knoxville, Tenn. “The drill meet consists of five main events: inspection, regulation drill, exhibition drill, color guard, and squad regulation,” he explained.

Kim said the inspection and regulation portion of the competition work “hand-in-hand” since they are back to back. By rule, the exact same members from inspection compete in regulation drill also.

“Squad drill and color guard require eight and five team members (respectively),” he said, “but the one that requires the most skill is platoon exhibition.”

Platoon exhibition is the portion where drill members spin rifles and coordinate different marching and formation segments that last anywhere from 8-10 minutes. It’s like you’re “telling a story” to the judges, Kim said.

Sammy Castro, a 20-year-old sophomore criminal justice and Spanish major from Miami, Fla., said that platoon exhibition requires the most skill, even though it’s only worth one out of the five other categories.

“It’s a type of event where everyone plays a key role in their part,” Castro said, “I personally would say everyone is essential. Unless we have alternates at the same skill level, no one can really replace another person.”

A big struggle that has been different this year, compared to the past ones, is the fact the routine was built from scratch.

“One of the most challenging objectives this year was to create an entirely new routine,” Kim said. “The fact that the judges already had an idea of what we were going to do wasn’t going to help us win the gold.”

Drill Team members at practice with rifles. Photo by Anthony Rodriguez

Lewis said making the new routine was beneficial and needed, because it gave everyone some input in the creation of this routine and helped build teamwork.

“The new one helps gives us a fresh start and a clean slate,” Lewis said. “I love the fact that when we perform it, it’s the entire block that had a contribution to the different segments, and it makes it more meaningful.”

While the team consists of 26 members, only about 11 are juniors and above, and only about 10 have any experience at the Mardi Gras drill meet. “It definitely is tough to only have two seniors on the team,” Kim said, “while the two others [seniors] that had great skill couldn’t make it, a few juniors have stepped up and taken on those mentoring roles.”

While training wasn’t easy at first, the team and routines were able to come together sooner rather later, Kim said.

“Being able to train freshman as my main job in the Corps, I was able to keep the same energy from training to practices with the team,” said Lewis, who added that the fact everyone is on the same page is great. “We must swallow our pride” to get critiques, but in the end, it’s for the benefit of the entire team, he said.

Adding to the team dynamic is the fact that it is coed.

Caouette was one of the first females picked to be on the competing team, and she said her motivation in part is that she wants to show other females that anyone can do it.

“One of the roles I feel I provide for females is that we can do just as good as everyone else,” she said. “Gender doesn’t play a role when we all have good skill and can make the team great.”

Caouette said being on a team with primarily males isn’t bad as some may think – everyone is viewed as equals. She invites other women “drillers” to come out for the team once it finishes the competition in order to see the female population on the team increase each year.

“I don’t really spin much,” she said, “but it would be amazing to see a female representative on the exhibition team. I think after that, that will solidify a legacy.”

While the team strives to build a performance that will bring victory, they know that means long and grueling practices.

“Practices run from Monday through Friday for about two hours and some change in the afternoon after classes,” Cruz said, “and then we have the occasional Saturday and Sunday practices that run anywhere from two to four hours.”

It takes a toll mentally and physically, he said. The team finds a way to manage all their academics while finding the motivation to finish strong in all aspects of their lives.

Long practices involve lots of marching drills. Picture by Andrew Thomas

“There’s always some frustration, whether it is personal or amongst each other,” Lewis said, “but we never take it to heart. At the end of the day, we’re basically one big happy family.”

The rifles the Shock Platoon use are demilitarized Springfield M-1903 a3 rifles, which weigh just about 8-and-a-half pounds. After a demanding two-hour practice, these rifles can start taking a toll on one’s body Castro said.

“I will be competing in all five events,” Castro said, “so whenever I finish practice, I always like to relax and try to not think about a rifle. But that only lasts so long, because I’ll always find myself picking up one [rifle] up before the end of the day.”

Cruz, who has also competed in various drill events in high school, was chosen for the one and only solo spot Norwich acquires.

“While winning the event does nothing to the overall placement of the team, it’s a fun little hobby to partake in,” Cruz said. “I love it, and once I start practicing for it, it’s almost as if it’s just for fun.”

Lightheartedly known as the “distinguished master soloist,” Cruz is humble enough to not let this opportunity go to his head.

“Whether I win or not, isn’t the biggest part of the competition,” he said, “as much as I would love to win first place, the team will always come first in my eyes. That will never change.”

With competition right around the corner, Kim said, “I feel we are about 70-80 percent ready.”

Through different obstacles, the team has managed to stay together. Taking a very young team out to the competition wasn’t planned, however, it’s what we have, he said.

“I’ve been on the team for the past four years, and this isn’t the most skillful team I’ve been on,” Kim said, “but the motivation and passion from the team is unmatched. It’s great to see everyone working together, and the potential is through the roof.”

Lewis said the attitude on this year’s team is productive. “The environment is one of the best it’s been in a while,” Lewis said, “it’s almost weird to see things run so smoothly as compared to the past years.”

In past years, he said he felt hints of toxicity in the commander’s leadership style, and the team being able to have a voice in various situations is a step in the right direction. He said the future looks bright for the Norwich University Regimental Drill Team, with the team having a young core and high passion.

“By the time we get to the competition, we will be at 95 percent without a doubt,” Kim said, “and whether we win or not is not an issue; we know we will be giving the best Norwich has to offer and we will be proud with that.”

Comments

  1. Scott Davies says:

    Interesting. Norwich’s team just got beat again by all Freshman from Texas A&M again (4th year in a row). Which means not a single Fish had any previous drill meet experience at this level. Ya just gotta say hmmm …

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