Drill company proves itself at competition
Ten minutes of precision to prove months of training and his first year in the Shock Platoon. Ten minutes, with no time for a comeback. Rod Torres' heart was racing, one move after another, careful not to speed up his soldier's march as his drill team performed.
For the 20-year-old freshman psychology major from Lubbock, Texas, it was a thrill to represent an "exotic" place: Norwich University.
On Feb. 15, representatives from the Norwich University Drill team, Torres among the youngest, took fourth place in the Mardi Gras Drill Meet at Tulane University in New Orleans, La. which brings in teams from around the nation.
On the five day trip, NU was represented by a group of 21 drill cadets, two band cadets to carry the NU flag, Lt. Col. Todd Edwards, assistant commandant of provisional battalion and director of the Norwich University Band, and Maj. Kristine Seipel, the director of housing and adjutant professor.
Though the focus was on the overall competition, the excursion to New Orleans involved much more than one day of serious competition, according to Seipel.
"On Feb. 16, the drill cadets performed their exhibition drill on the live local news station WWL on Channel 4 in New Orleans, in addition to competing at the national championship," Edwards said.
"(Performing on live TV) got you very nervous because you knew that people were watching you but you couldn't see them," said Torres. "But (performing) is fun in general."
Referring to the shooting incident at an International House of Pancakes in Reno, Nevada on Sept. 6, 2011, Edwards said that the cadets held a special performance in honor of Maj. Heath Kelley, NU alumni and member of the National Guard, who was killed that day. "We did a special show at (the '86 alumnus') high school and presented a plaque to his grandmother."
The next day, thanks to an alumni contact in New Orleans, the cadets were able to practice in New Orleans Saints Stadium the day before the competition. However, the experience was joined with another surprise, according to Robert Kelley, a 21-year-old junior criminal justice major from Clarkesville, Tenn.
"They let us chill and hang out with the Vince Lombardi Trophy," Kelley said. "It was pretty exciting."
According to Seipel, one of the heights of the entire trip was taking pictures with the Superbowl trophy won by the New Orleans Saints two years ago.
After a night of networking with local alumni, the cadets woke up on Feb. 17 to the day of competition at Tulane University.
According to Edwards, NU was among 30 to 40 other universities from across the nation in six separate competitions.
Steve Gonzalez, a 21-year-old junior computer security major from Miami, Fla., says that the cadets competed in a platoon inspection, squad and platoon regulation events, a platoon exhibition competition, and a color guard event.
According to Torres, who has been practicing rifle drill for five years, performing in a drill competition is a challenging endeavor unlike other types of competitions.
"With performing in drill, because it is not like basketball or football where you still have a few more minutes, you have to give it precision for the full 10 minutes that you are performing," Torres said. "It's very, very nerve-wracking."
"You want to over think it, you don't want to under think it," Torres said of his drill movements. "You want to make sure that your moves are crisp and sharp, but in the end you have to go with the flow. All of that is really, really scary. Your heart is racing, but you can't speed up or else you're off time with everyone else."
However, the team performed at its peak, according to Kelley. "The exhibition was our best performance yet," said Kelley. "We didn't have any drops (and) everyone was on point. That was the highlight: finishing."
This year's competition was the first to have a full color guard dedicated only to the one event, according to Kelley.
Melissa Grube, a 20-year-old sophomore biology major from Allentown, Penn., commanded the color guard at the competition. Having only commanded a team in a meet once before at Cornell, Grube says that she was excited. "It was very exciting for me, but it was a lot of stress though."
"Ultimately, every part adds up to the overall score so if the color guard didn't place then it (would make) us place lower," Grube said of the pressure she felt in contributing to her team.
Though separate from the overall score, a 19-year-old sophomore major from Jacksonville, Fla., and a national competition veteran, Preston Huntington took second place in the national competition for individual expedition drill.
Having only a few weeks to prepare for the event and being charged as the team's acting captain responsible for accountability, Huntington said he created his routine mostly "on the spot".
"I really didn't have a lot of time that day to practice because I was so involved," he said. "I just went out there and did my best."
Despite being given little time to either create or practice a routine due to his responsibilities within the company, Huntington missed first place by only one point.
In the end, the NU drill team took fourth place overall, though they had been mistakenly awarded the third place trophy, according to Seipel.
Falling just behind NU's leading rival, Texas A&M, the team was disappointed but proud of the performance, according to Kelley.
"We didn't do as well as we hoped, (we) always go to a competition and want first place," he said "That's everyone's mind-set. But, at the end of the day, every time we stepped off the drill deck I know that I felt, and everyone else felt, that we did our best. Everyone gave it their all."
Experiencing the trip as one of the two freshman cadets amid a range of upperclassmen was a weird experience for Torres. "A lot of (the upperclassmen on the trip) were my drill cadre so I got to see a lighter side to them," Torres explained. "I got to see their real face(s) as opposed to their cadre face(s). And they were more than willing to be kind and courteous to me."
Prior to the competition, the team faced many obstacles, such as a flux of personnel. "We had a lot of difficulties losing people, gaining people close to the competition," said Torres. "We never really had set numbers."
Gonzalez, who competed as a part of the 80 to 90 percent of first-timers that made up the team, said that the trip was a good but challenging experience.
The day of heated rivalry, regardless of the results, was a beneficial networking event among the other schools. "(The competition) is all of these other people who are so like-minded from different places and are all just there to do a goal," Kelley said of his first experience at the national competition.
With a common interest in drill at the heart of each team, cadets from across the nation connected. "(The teams) all have this love of drill, and that is why it's cool to talk to people from other schools," Kelley said.
"Everyone is really respectful of one another even though we're in this deep-pitted competition.
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