NJROTC ranks third at state qualifier, sparks renewed motivation

Under the blinding mid-afternoon sun, a burly man was roaring at students in uniform. They stood like brick walls, answering only to the stone-faced man towering over them. Though they were in an open field, they could feel the pressure closing in.

This was the first state qualifier meet of the year for Navy Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (NJROTC), held at El Camino Real High School, Oct. 28. If they won first place, they would have a guaranteed qualification for state level meets.

But before the meet even began, several competitors began feeling cracks in the foundation of the NJROTC program. At the start of this year, Command Master Chief Jacob Directo (12) noticed a shortage of cadets, which made getting higher-end competitors from the small pool more difficult. Combined with the absence of several of their top members in the meet, this resulted in a lower score.

“We needed a 40-person team, but other schools had an easier time getting the 40 best cadets because they had more cadets with half doing better, half the battalion is doing good stuff,” he said. “The field meet team is supposed to be the best of the best cadets, though. Our organization for this year was off because we asked people if they wanted to be in the field meet team, whereas last year and before we had more people, so they had to try out.”

The NJROTC program also got a new Senior Naval Science Instructor (SNSI) this year Directo noted that this transition was difficult, and had a negative effect on the results of the meet.

“We’re trying to bring home the six year state championship trophy with a new set of leadership, and we have a new senior naval science instructor, Commander Jordan left last year so it’s been hard, especially with the new upper staff and it’s been really difficult for us to manage and stuff because Commander Jordan has always been there,” Directo said.  “Prior to this year Commander Jordan was our SNSI for like ten years, and since he’s changed to our Area 11 Manager which means he’s top, he’s higher, we have a new SNSI and the transition’s been hard but we’ve managed.”

From the start of the day, both stress and excitement were building. Though the meet started at 8:30 a.m., cadets had to arrive at school at 5:15 a.m. for the two-and-a-half hour bus ride to El Camino Real High School. The whole competition lasted roughly eight hours, ending at 9 p.m.

The first events of the meet were pushups and situps. Cadets were trying to achieve perfect form and complete the most pushups and situps possible. They did all this to the rhythm of the instructor’s voice. But due to the small number of cadets in the program this year, the competitive pool wasn’t as prepared.

“This year we didn’t have a lot of good athletes, so people got docked points,” Directo said. “How it works in competition is, you’re going to do your pushups and situps, and if your form is wrong, then they’ll call you out. And for some reason our form for a lot of our cadets who did pushups and situps was really bad, and they got tapped out extremely early.”

After pushups and situps came personnel inspection, where cadets’ uniforms were inspected by superior officers. Westview passed with little issues, according to Commanding Officer Brett Draper (12).

“Our uniform inspection was perfect, but we have certain changes that we want to make for drill teams that way it makes us look snappier,” Draper said. “[Like] really making sure that you’re aligned and covered in all of your drill events and different things like that.”

The next few events didn’t look any brighter. During exhibition drills, which are rhythm-based performances, cadets did not score well.

According to Draper, for the rest of the meet Westview scored as it usually does: very high in color guard, unarmed basic, and armed basic. The color guard event is marching with rifles and the flag, unarmed basic is basic marching, and armed basic is marching with just rifles. During every marching event cadets are asked questions about Navy policies and facts. As the top three high schools were announced at the end of the day, everyone was eager to hear the results. Westview ultimately placed third out of twelve schools.

The disappointment was an unfamiliar experience to Draper, even though he went to many meets in the past two years. The NJROTC program is renowned across the state, winning qualifying meets for the past five years and making it to nationals three years ago. In this meet, Westview placed third for the first time. But in the face of such a blow, the cadets are uniting now more than ever.

“It was kind of our wakeup call, it’s like the splash-water-on-your-face-in-the-morning kind of thing to wake yourself up,” Draper said. “Now we’re awake. Now we’re aware of what happened and what we need to do better in order to place higher in field meets.”