HARLINGEN — Morning, noon and night.
Summer break, weekends, after school, burning the midnight oil, whatever it takes to get to the U.S. Army JROTC Drill National Championship in March.
That was the attitude of the Harlingen High School Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps for the past year, and it paid off in a big way.
Saturday they competed in San Antonio against about 30 teams at the Fifth Brigade JROTC Drill Championship. They performed so well they qualified for the national competition in Richmond, Virginia. This is the first time they’ve qualified for nationals, and the only team this year from the Valley to do so.
“I’m very excited,” said Sgt. First Class Efrain Fuentes, instructor of the armed drill team.
“It’s something we’ve been looking forward to all year,” he said. “They’ve been practicing hard and they came out there and did a great job. There was discipline, motivation all year long. They were really looking forward to it.”
Master Sgt. Juan Gonzalez said Harlingen High School is the only school in Texas sending two drill teams to the event, which includes the all-girl unarmed drill team. Cadet Capt. Santiago Mendoza was delighted. Practicing on dirt and gravel as opposed to tiled floors like teams at other schools presented a challenge, he said.
“Marching would be the biggest thing I would say, having everyone aligned and on step,” he said.
About 45 cadets competed in four events: inspection, exhibition, color guard and drill team.
“The inspection is just a test to a cadet’s bearing and how well they can keep their composure when you ask them difficult questions,” said Cadet Major Nioni Ledezma, 16, a junior.
“It’s really hard for most people because they’re not used to someone being so close to them asking those questions,” Ledezma said. “If you can keep your bearing on things like that then you’re good to go.”
In the exhibition, a group of 19 female cadets performed a series of drills in a complicated choreography.
“The exhibition is like stepping, using your feet and hands to make beats,” Ledezma said. “What’s really important is being in sync and memorizing the routines and trying to come up with creative things to stand out from the rest of the teams.”
Their task was further complicated by the number of girls on the HHS team. While most competing groups were made of about 9 or 12 girls, they had 19.
“It was really hard but we executed it perfectly when we got over there,” Ledezma said. “I was really proud of them.”
The next “step” on their road of excellence will take place March 30 in Richmond.