FCHS JROTC: 'They did us proud'

by Sean Dunlap

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Franklin County High School’s Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps cadets might want to adopt the Latin phrase “veni, vidi, vici” as a program motto.

Literally translated, it means “I came, I saw, I conquered.”

The Bulldog Battalion ended its participation in the 2023 National Drill Team Championships here with an impressive 15th-place finish among competitive JROTC programs from across the United States.

“It was an enormous challenge and I was so super-proud of our team, which has always impressed me with their attitude and character along with their grit and determination,” retired Col. Lynn Pippen said of his students.

“Everything didn’t go perfect for us — and you really can’t expect that to happen, but when problems arose in competition, we pushed through it and their performance overall was fantastic.”

Pippen said the FC cadets faced off against some of the finest drill teams in existence while improving seven spots from last year’s 22nd-place finish in the event.

Franklin County participants received marks in four competitive areas — taking 12th place in Color Guard; 14th place in Armed Regulation; 20th place in Armed Inspection; and 21st place in Armed Exhibition.

“Having participated in national drill competition last year, we had a better idea of what to expect in returning there this year,” retired Sgt. First Class Marjorie De La Garza, program instructor and drill team coach, said.

“In the end, we got as close to perfection as I have seen from our cadets on the actual drill pad and their attitudes were wonderful.

“I don’t have any negative comments whatsoever about our entire effort because this was a great trip and clearly demonstrated what our cadets have worked on so hard throughout the year.”

Participants left for Florida on Wednesday, May 3 with the cadet corps welcomed by the Meadville Methodist Church for a send-off breakfast prior to departing on a charter bus for the cross-country trek.

On Thursday, the group did an informal, dry run of its routines after breakfast and spent the afternoon visiting Sea World before returning to their hotel rooms to rest before Friday’s competition.

FC’s first presentation — the Armed Exhibition — started shortly after 8 a.m., and the final performance — Armed Color Guard — wrapped up around 4:30 p.m.

Additionally, the Bulldog Battalion took part in two other judged events — a solo Armed Presentation by Austin Wallace, and a dual Armed Presentation by Arthur Atterberry and Austin Halford.

The solo and dual events, which were a rifle handling proficiency demonstration, did not count toward team competition totals.

The team departed Florida before 7 a.m., Saturday, and returned to Franklin County around 8:30 p.m., that evening.

In arriving and leaving, the cadets were escorted by the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department.

“This was a big year for Franklin County JROTC that started with a small-school competition at Terry High School and I think that very first win gave us the momentum we needed to push forward,” De La Garza went on to say.

“(The competition at) Ocean Springs has always been our goal to win, and when we won that one it was like our momentum went on the fast track. These cadets have the bumps and bruises to show for their hard work, and their determination gave them a share of this year’s state championship and a chance to return to nationals.”

To that end, Pippen said Franklin County’s JROTC cadets had a pinpoint focus on what they hoped to accomplish.

“I think the thing that has impressed me most about these young men and women is their hunger — an appetite for success that grew under Sgt. D’s leadership and from our senior leaders,” Pippen added.

“In the end, hunger to be the best is what led our cadets to have a memorable year and I hope that enthusiasm filters into the entire program, and, by extension, across our school campus and into our community.”

De La Garza said she felt like success has bred success where the program is concerned.

“Over the past couple of years, we have used a spring competition at Brandon High School to gauge how next year’s team is going to perform,” she continued.

“This year and in the previous year, the efforts of our cadets gave me high hopes that we would be a participant at the state- and national-levels ... showing that we had made improvements.

“There are continued high hopes for our success to grow and our finish this year shows how seriously everyone involved takes this and wants to keep climbing.”

And while getting better in every competitive aspect for the program is a plus, Pippen said it is not the end all-be all where FC’s cadet corps is concerned.

“Sgt. Maj. Dubose, when we went to a drill camp at Petal High School two years ago, played a Tim McGraw song and pointed out the music stressed that despite any amount of success, individuals in our corps of cadets need to show humility and kindness,” Pippen said.

“While our expectations grow with every competition, the actual bar we measure ourselves by is the humility and kindness we demonstrate on a daily basis. If we can do that and observe a strong work ethic, the rest of the things we face will address themselves.”

Among the cadets and team managers taking part in this year’s event were Savannah Arnold, Paden Arnold, Atterberry, Carmin Banks, Shane Carr, Arihanna Coleman, Celeste Collins, Savannah Cothren, Caleb Fontenot, Carter Goff, Tate Goff, Rebekah Griffin, Halford, Ayden Harrell, Drake Higgs, Maddie McCaa, Drew Mullins, Seth Powell, Zachary Richardson, Abrielle Simmons, A’aliyah Smith, Nick Smith, Wallace and Fletcher Wimberly.

Last week’s effort capped a stellar year for the Bulldog Battalion which took top honors at the Terry High School drill meet on Saturday, Oct. 8, at Ocean Springs on Saturday, Oct. 22 and at Hancock High School in Kiln on Saturday, Nov. 12.

On Saturday, Dec. 10, FC walked away with a state co-championship with Petal High School in an event held at Ocean Springs.

With a state title in hand, both Franklin County and Petal advanced to the national drill competition.

In a tune-up before heading to Daytona Beach, Franklin County participated in a drill competition in Rankin County on Saturday, March 25 and walked away with eight of its 10 participating units placing in that competition.