Expressive 1010 2nd Place
Professor: Charles Cuthbertson
I'm not hungry. All I want is to find out who won. That's all anyone wants to find out. The chicken on my plate is cold, and so is everyone else's food. My teammates at the table are all looking at their plates with blank stares. Everyone's dressed the same: Air Force Dress Blues class Bravo, crisply ironed light blue shirts with dark blue ties and pants. Shirts are tailored to fit; ribbons and medals are perfectly aligned with straight sharp creases down our sleeves. We've all been awake for far too long with not much sleep, so we should be tired and hungry, but nothing looks appetizing, and no one can sleep. A silver challenge coin with the National Cadet Competition symbol on the side flips through our fingers. Some are kissing it for good luck. Finally, the speaker comes to the mic. "And the winner of the 2008 National Cadet Competition is…"
In the winter of 2008, I was about halfway through my freshman year of high school. This would be my third year in the Air Force Auxiliary, Civil Air Patrol Cadet Program. It is very similar to an ROTC program with marching, uniforms, color guard, and leadership training, but we also do homeland search and rescue, security, counter narcotics, counter terrorism, aerial surveillance, and medical transport. One night while I was at my kung fu class, I received a phone call from one of my fellow cadets who was a first lieutenant from Richfield, asking me if I would like to take some cadets from my squadron up to Salt Lake that weekend for drill team tryouts. Until then, I had never even heard of a drill team, and had no idea what was involved in it. I told him yes, and called my first sergeant to get some cadets together for the trip up there. I only remember that Kenton Hemsley, one of my cadets, went up with me. He did not make the team. The tryouts were a way for all of us to find out what drill team was all about. I think there were only a few of us who had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. I was one of those people.
The cadet commander of the Utah Drill Team that year was Cadet Second Lieutenant Cheston Newhall. He was my squadron's first sergeant during my basic encampment, and he had a lot to do with how I became the cadet I eventually was. Thinking back to my arrival at Camp Williams three years earlier, the second person I met was First Sergeant Newhall. At the time, I was unaware of how to properly address ranking cadets. The proper way would have been to address him as "first sergeant," and I called him sir. I had my ass handed to me within the first twenty minutes of arriving on post. The next ten days were hell for me, bearing in mind that I was barely thirteen years old at this point. Every morning we were woken up by whistle, air horns, and staff members yelling "Get up! Get up!" That was followed by physical training or PT, then a full day of training after that. Lights out was at 10:00 pm. By some miracle, I was able to make it through the week and graduate, taking the first step in my CAP career.
On tryouts day, Newhall told us about the events that drill teams participate in. There were six events for competition. First was standard drill. Within a five minute time line, and a 60'x60' drill pad, we had to execute a list of standard drill commands from the Air Force Drill and Ceremonies Manual. Those commands included marching and saluting. Next was innovative drill. In the same time line and space requirements, we had to use the drill manual to execute an innovative drill performance. Third was a volleyball competition, then a timed 1-mile run. Finally, there were two knowledge based events: a 100 question timed written exam on every CAP cadet manual, regulation, and standard, then a very competitive panel quiz consisting of the same material. We had two competitions to prepare for. The first was the Regional Cadet Competition (RCC) which consisted of the states Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana. If we placed first in that, we would go on to the National Cadet Competition (NCC) in Dayton, Ohio with teams from all 8 of Civil Air Patrol's national regions. We had just over four months before RCC in April to select our team of 12 cadets plus the commander, create and learn our innovative routine, and train, study, and practice.
Every one of my weekends turned into drill weekends where I would drive up to Salt Lake, a five hour dive, and stay there for two and a half days with my team training. I was the cadet who had to travel the farthest as most of the other team members lived within thirty minutes of the airport where our wing headquarters were located. Drill weekends meant that for the time I was up there, I wouldn't be getting very much, if any sleep, studying for endless hours, drilling as a formation, playing very competitive volleyball, running several miles at a time, and taking a multitude of quizzes and exams to prepare us for competition. In what seemed like the blink of an eye, RCC was upon us. We would be competing against a drill team from Colorado and Idaho. Without very much difficulty, we defeated them by a very large margin. We now had just over two months to prepare for the National Cadet Competition.
Healthy lifestyles were always encouraged during this time so we could improve not only our mile and volleyball performance, but also our cognitive skills. However, I was in a time of my life where health always took a back seat. I consumed disgusting amounts of Mountain Dew and fatty snacks and rationalized it by doing so much physical training; I could afford to take in all of that food. All of my run times were in the six minute range, my test scores were always in the 98-100 range, and my volleyball was excellent. I never noticed the affect that eating had on me until after drill team was over and I quit. I was able to see that had I put 110% into drill team like my other teammates did, I could have helped our team surpass the bar of excellent to extraordinary instead of just meeting the bar.
By the time we got to NCC, we had made a name for ourselves. Our team was called the Titan Drill Team. The legend of the Titan Gods had thirteen Gods, we had thirteen cadets. We were well known in the nation. It had been seven years since Utah had beat Colorado during RCC. All eyes were on us. Our main competition would be Southwest Region with Arizona Drill Team, and Southeast Region with Puerto Rico Drill Team. Both Arizona and Puerto Rico had multiple NCC championships. Utah had never won NCC before. One of the first events was standard drill. From that event on, everyone knew that we would be the team to beat, because every turn we made the sound of thirteen heels coming back together echoed a loud pop on the drill pad. We knew we were good and so did everyone else. In the video taken of our standard drill, a cadet from another team said with a very worried voice, "Listen to their heels pop, we're in trouble." We had standard drill in the bag. Our next outright victory was in volleyball. We played all seven teams, but we were the only team to beat Arizona. No one had beaten Arizona in ten years. All of the other events were up for grabs between Utah, Arizona, and Puerto Rico. We never had any concern from Alaska, New York or Michigan. Finally, after two days full of competition, we went to the awards dinner.
No one on my team wanted to sit through dinner. Most of us were sick with anticipation. At one point, the Cadet Commander of NCC walked around passing out the NCC Challenge coin. It was a silver coin with the NCC symbol on one side, and the CAP seal on the other. Everyone at my table stared at our plates full of food while holding on to our coins tightly underneath the table. Most of the other teams were joking and laughing, enjoying their dinner. Everyone was starved, but we couldn't eat, let alone speak. Finally, the chief speaker came up to the mic and with little introduction began to say, "And the winner of the 2008 National Cadet Competition is, Southwest Region." We didn't place first or second. We placed third. At the time, we didn't know why we placed third, it would be about a week before we would know what our scores were compared to the other teams. Our whole team was crushed. No one could look at one another. When the dinner was finally over, we stepped outside and apologized to everyone on our team and said thank you. With tears in our eyes, our team commander started saying our chant. "One team…" and we replied with smiles on our faces, "…One Sound." We had done our job. It was time to go home.
We later found out that our placement was because our mile time was four seconds slow to the second place team and our overall volleyball score was third. Even though we didn't take first it was still the most valuable experience that I have ever participated in. The connections that I made with my teammates only benefited my ability to work as a team member and interact in society. When we were training in 2008, we always referred to our team as family and I feel that we always will be family.