Early risers around campus may be familiar with UR’s NROTC Drill Team. Twice a week at 6 a.m. or earlier, the team of midshipmen – all students of UR, Rochester Institute of Technology, St. John Fisher College and SUNY Brockport – marches conspicuously from Morey Hall across the River Campus to Goergen Athletic Center. Any military personnel will tell you that drilling is serious business, despite Bill Murray’s best efforts to convince us otherwise in “Stripes.” Each student on UR’s team carries a 10-pound M1 rifle and, though the rifles are demilitarized and never actually fired, they still play an essential role in drill practice on the gym floor, as roughly 20 midshipmen, lined in three rows, work on mastering commands, discipline, marching techniques, rifle maneuvers and military knowledge.
The goal is to thrive at regional competitions, such as the drill competition that was held at Cornell University on Nov. 17th. In preparing for the event, drill teamers increased practice to every morning for two weeks.
“It’s hard, waking up at 5:15 every day for two weeks,” Midshipman and junior Alex Judd said, “but it helps a lot.” Judd is a drill team veteran, having participated in every drill competition since he enrolled at UR. As a result, he was confident during the events at Cornell that included drilling in front of a large audience. “You’re right out in the open,” he said. “But this is the fifth one I’ve been to, so it wasn’t that bad for me. As a freshman, it’s pretty nerve-racking.”
The most nerve-racking part is the inspection, where marines interview the midshipmen and test them on military knowledge in an intimidating fashion. “The first inspection, they get right in your face,” Judd said. “You’re expected not to miss any questions.” Team members are expected to answer quickly and with confidence. But because of the occasional sneaky curveball from inspectors, this isn’t always the case. “They’ll ask you difficult questions that you’re not expected to know the answer to,” Judd said, “just to see if you keep your bearing. Sometimes people will start looking around and think about it. But you have to be confident in your answer.”
UR fared exceptionally in this regard – its varsity team placed second in platoon inspection and fourth in overall drill. The freshman team left room for improvement but its members didn’t embarrass themselves as rookies, according to Judd. “[They] did pretty well for their first time out, but they missed a couple commands, so it threw it off a little bit. The freshmen are definitely capable,” he said.
Teams from 14 schools, including the Naval and Merchant Marine Academies, traveled to Cornell for more than the drill competition. The NROTC units also competed in a Military Excellence Competition (MEC), an athletic contest including a 10-kilometer run, swim meet and basketball tournament. Judd aided the team’s success in swimming. “I’ve always been a swimmer,” he said. “We always bring home trophies in swimming.”
But the MEC team’s most impressive effort came in the Iron Man. The team finished with the top spot in the event that consisted of a 500-yard swim, two-minute drills in pushups and sit-ups, pull-ups and a three-mile run. “We did very well in MEC,” said Judd, who organized the team as the MEC/Drill commander. “We finished second overall, which was very good for us.”
Indeed, the second-place finish in the athletic competition is UR’s best in years and bodes well for next semester’s competition at Villanova University. Judd is optimistic.
“We could have improved a little bit upon a couple of the drill events,” he said, “but we’re going to work on that for Villanova.” If the drill team improves upon its stellar effort, the midshipmen are on their way to establishing a reputation of excellence for UR.
Fountaine is a member of the class of 2008.