Hard work by ‘Shock Platoon’ puts Norwich drill team in top ranks

As cadets from 24 different military schools sat in a small auditorium at Tulane University, members of Norwich’s Shock Platoon anxiously awaited the scores from the judges in the annual nationwide drill competition.

Instructors from Tulane University, who were the hosts for the Mardi Gras collegiate nationals, announced that the United States Military Academy (west Point) had taken third place overall. Then they announced that Norwich University had taken second place.

“I was absolutely shocked,” said Joseph Kim, a senior civil engineering major and commander of the Shock Platoon, who noted they “came down all the way from Vermont” the first weekend in March to prove they were capable of putting on a top-notch performance.

That they did. Norwich’s Shock Platoon competitors put on a show at Tulane University, taking honors as the only school to place in every single event, along with winning second overall in the nation.

“We worked extremely hard to get where we were at,” said Shawn H. Wan, a 21-year-old senior computer security and information assurance major from Jackson, N.J., who heads the drill team. “Being the commander for two of the events, it was humbling to see how far we came,” he said.

There were five total events that counted to the overall score: Platoon Inspection, Platoon Basic, Squad Basic, Platoon Exhibition, and Color Guard. Wan was the commander for both Platoon Inspection and Platoon Basic and was a member of the Platoon Exhibition Team.

“Everyone played a vital role on the team, and we all treated each other like the best of teammates. That was a huge key to this year’s success,” said Wan, who led an effort by the team to revamp its drill exhibition at the start of the year.

The Tulane trip totaled five days in all, with an early morning start on Wednesday at 2 a.m., and a return home trip beginning at 4 a.m. Sunday. There was no time to relax after the long ride down.

“The minute we got to the hotel, it took about an hour before we started practice,” said Sammy Castro, a 20-year-old sophomore criminal justice major from North Miami Beach, Fla. “Command Sgt. Maj. (Geraldo) Mercado insisted we get a practice going before our scheduled practice for Thursday afternoon.”

The spontaneous practice took place at the New Orleans Saints NFL facility, which was successful and inspirational, he said.

“Given the opportunity to practice at the Saints facility was such a privilege thanks to our alumni connections,” Castro said, “it felt too good to be true.” The fact some Norwich alumni were there to offer their compliments added to the team’s confidence.

The team this year was unusual in that Shock Platoon brought in eight drill trainees, seven of them freshman, who had a lot to learn in a hurry. “It wasn’t my first time competing, but being a part of something with such history as the Shock Platoon, I felt I had pretty big shoes to fill,” said Brandon Sigurdsson, a 18-year-old freshman Chinese major from Seoul, South Korea. “But I am glad I was able to put in all that I had for the team.”

The freshmen helped the team in many ways. In some events such as Color Guard, they were a crucial part of the team since only five members participate – and two of the five were rooks not too long ago.

“I would like to say we played a big role in the success of the team,” Sigurdsson said, adding, “We all did. From what I saw in my experience this year, it wasn’t a grade level separating everyone, but more of skill and experience we had that made the differences.”

Of the five competitions. there were two solo exhibition spots given to two cadets, who took a first and a second.

“I was so nervous, but I am extremely humbled by winning first for solo,” said Aiden Cruz, a 20-year-old junior computer security and information assurance major. “It was the icing on the cake after winning second overall as a team.”

With such a young core, and only three seniors leaving, the team has high hopes of winning the national championship in the years to come.
“Getting Command Sgt. Maj. Mercado back helped us out so much,” Kim said, “and we’re [seniors] leaving the team in great hands in the juniors. There’s honestly a possible dynasty approaching.”

Cruz said that practices will pick up again after spring break: For champions, training never comes to an end.

“The only way we won’t get first is if we let ourselves down,” Cruz said, “other than that, we have a bright future ahead.” The biggest competition comes from Texas A&M, but Kim notes the much larger school barely won by a “mere” 0.7 points.

“Being the only school to place in all the events, it was a surprise we came in second overall,” Wan said, “but we knew our mistakes. We know what the team has to improve on.”

Wan said the team’s stellar showing, after some less than good placements for the Shock Platoon in the past seven to eight years, was like “night and day,” adding it felt great for Norwich to earn back respect in the drill world.

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