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Why do we Practice the way we do?

Fran Hunt Simmons

Sometimes students have a hard time understanding why it is we spend so much time working on individual skills, when it’s easy to see that most of the team can do the skills. I tell them it’s a lot like a sports team. Every experienced baseball player has skills – they already know how to run, how to hit, and how to field. A lot of athletes are self-taught, and they are good at what they do. But when they join a team, they have to learn their coach’s way of doing things, and it may not be what they are used to. We are not individuals performing alone. As a team, we have to develop “the team’s way of doing things” in order to have what’s known as “good technique.” Here are some important terms that apply to this concept:

Skill – The ability to perform a function that has been acquired or learned with practice.
Examples of skills: spins, tosses, exchanges and tricks.

Practice – doing something repeatedly or continuously in order to master it.
– The purpose of practice is to master your skills.
– Achieving individual precision requires knowledge of a standard (such as FM 3-21.5) and unfailing adherence to that standard in performing a set of skills. You learn the rules, and work within them.

Technique – Using the same method to achieve a skill. Every team has its own techniques.

Fundamentals – Groups of techniques
– The purpose of learning fundamentals is to practice our technique.

The Work Ethic Behind Precision
In exhibition drill, you learn a routine between 6-10 minutes long with a team of 9 to 26 people. Team precision requires performing maneuvers that may or may not be explained in any manual with the same technique.

Precision – ability to perform fundamentals with good technique.
Precision is achieved through knowing team fundamentals and through many hours of learning, practicing, adjusting and analyzing the routine. It takes cooperation to achieve a thorough understanding of each move and your individual responsibilities within it.
It will be hard, but you will have help. Remember, we want you to do well. Your professional attitude towards the leadership of the team and towards the many adjustments required will be an important contribution to the effort to maintain high standards.

– In team competition, the judges measure whether skills are performed with precision.
– The team practices their skills with their specific technique using fundamentals in order to achieve precision.

Fran Hunt Simmons a long-time guardie, instructor, adjudicator and coach of the Ansbach High School AJROTC Cougar Battalion Drill Team

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Becoming a Professional Driller

Q: How can I become a professional Driller?

A: What you are talking about is becoming an Independent (Indie) Driller which very few people have done successfully. Why very few? Most likely because the military drill world is relatively small and there hasn’t been anything offered to anyone who would like to drill after high school or even college. Within the past few years a few competitions have either opened their doors to Indie Drillers (IWDC) or only accept Indie Drillers (Pro America, the EDCA series of meets). This then creates more demand for the Indie Driller.

I think drill is a sport with all kinds of positives that one can use for the rest of their life and the continuation of drill as a hobby then gives the younger generation someone to which they can see and emulate. I applaud anyone who is willing to continue drilling simply for the joy of it. If it is your passion, go for it. You can always put it on hold for a time to accomplish whatever you need, but your rifle will always be there for you and the World Drill Association has plans on creating more and more competitions for all kinds of Drillers. I hope one day the WDA can be of service to you as you become a world class Independent Driller!

We will begin to identify what being a “Professional Driller” really means. It’s a state of mind. You only get one chance to make a first impression. What kind of first impression do you want to make? What kind of reputation would you like to make and leave behind? Whether you are on a drill team or an independent Driller, the choice is yours to make.

Join us on Facebook: Military Drill Professionals group.

Pro = Cash, right?
No. We’re talking about an ideal, not cash. Sure, professional golfers, fishermen, etc. get paid for what they do, but until the drill world starts getting sponsorship, we’re talking about how one acts. And acting professional is what this article is all about; not the acting that is on a stage, but applying professionalism to your life on a daily basis.

Watch your actions
When interviewed about a recent arrest or jail time, some very ignorant sports figures over the years have said that they are not a role model to anyone especially young children. This is utterly ridiculous. Everyone at one time or another is a role model for someone else. Now, they could be a poor role model or they could be a positive role model, the choice is theirs. What you do, what you say and how you act can have significant influence on others. Always act in a professional manner and you will do well.

“What we do in life, echoes in eternity.”
From the movie, Gladiator.

And Your Mouth
Foul language never has a place in any situation. Always remember, practice makes permanent: what you do in practice you’ll do any other time. This is not limited to the physical action of going out and practicing, your daily activities are ‘practice’ for every other time. If you curse constantly when hanging out with “the guys,” you will most likely utter certain inappropriate words at times when you wish you hadn’t.

Along with this goes your feedback; learning the language of visual design and adjudication will greatly improve your efforts to offer feedback to others. Don’t let your personal feelings or biases get in the way.

Support Others
Whether you are an individual Driller or part of a team, you are actually competing with yourself and not with others. Coming to this realization can be difficult for some. When you focus your attention on others, you can then fail to see what improvements you need to make. Competing with yourself allows you to cheer others on and also encourage others and when they do well you can share in their achievements and when you do well, they can reciprocate. Competing with yourself also allows you to focus your attention where it needs to be focused: you.

Don’t be swayed into “hating” another Driller or drill team that you are competing against. Competition is not about disliking a competitor, competition is about doing your best 100% of the time. If you can walk off the drill pad knowing that you did your best, then nothing else matters. Trophies and other accolades are nice, but they are external. The inward feeling of sheer pride cannot be beat.

Here is an example: a small team from a small school goes out to a drill competition, they are only able to put in four hours of practice per week. They understand that they do not have the chance of placing high, but they go to the competition with high spirits and during their performance they give it their all. in this case, no one can say anything against them. They know their limitations and yet they perform with pride. This is the heart of competition. When everyone understands this, the better the drill world will be.

Another example: Take the guards at the Tomb of The Unknowns in Greece. Americans might call the uniform, hat and even the tassel-balls on the shoes very strange or worse. Even the marching style is completely different from what those of us in the USA are accustomed to. Those who do not poses much maturity might even laugh, but this is a different culture with completely different traditions, etc. Learning and appreciating differences helps everyone in the long run.

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Regarding Colors

Colors (meaning a color guard or, more precisely named, colors team), are a little different today than a few years ago, the honor guard standard is being used everywhere you look and, in my opinion, this is a very good thing: soon to be gone are the days of a color team unceremoniously stomping through a formal dinner setting or having the commander give multiple commands for the color bearers and rifle guards plus some other relatively annoying parochial issues.

Color Bearer Port Arms

The picture here depicts the position of Port Arms for a color bearer. The flagstaff does not have to be in the cup when marching- however, Port is only used for short distances and almost always indoors when the ceiling height is too low to carry at Right Shoulder (Right Shoulder for a color bearer is when the staff is in the harness cup and the right hand is at Attention).

The manual of arms (for colors), the manual of the ceremonial fire axe and the manual of the ceremonial pike pole all mirror each other and are intended to be used along with colors.

The manual of the flagstaff and the modified manual of arms, fire axe and pole for colors are completely described with pictures for each movement in The Honor Guard Manual.

On a side note, the World Drill Association will use the standards of The Honor Guard Manual for different phases of competition at WDA-sanctioned/sponsored drill meets. The future looks bright and fun!

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Eyes Right for a Color Team

Click here for info on “Color Guard” vs. “Color Team.”

The Question:
Hello, I’m in an Army JROTC and I have a Federal Inspection coming up. I’m doing the color guard for the AFI and I wondering on what to do during eyes, right. Do I salute the rifle like this picture? Or do I just look to the right and keep marching and it’s just only the flag saluting? If you could reply back to me, I’d appreciate it.
Thank you very much

The Answer:
What a great picture you’ve found! Judging by the uniform, you’ve found a WWI-era Manual of Arms pic, possibly a Boy Scout maybe a Soldier. I really enjoy the history of how certain movements came about that we use today.

This picture, at right, is actually how one salutes, individually- not in a formation, when at Right Shoulder. And, as we all know, the right forearm should be horizontal and not at an angle like in this picture.

So, on with the answer: The Command, Eyes, RIGHT is called at Right Shoulder as two consecutive right steps are taken. When the next left foot strikes the ground, the following happens all at the same time:
1. The Left Rifle Guard, all non-national Color Bearers and National Color Bearer all turn their heads 45-degrees to the right; the Right Rifle Guard looks straight ahead and acts as the guide for the team.
2. The non-national Color Bearer brings his/her color to a 45-degree angle be fully extending the right arm in the three steps after the command (this is what we do on the honor guard), whipping the flag forward in one count does not look appropriate (you are not supposed to whip a color forward when standing still, so don’t do it when marching).

On the command, Ready, FRONT, the team snaps its heads back to looking straight forward and the non-national color bearer(s) bring their colors back to vertical in three steps.

Note: for honor guard, all team members do not swing their arms and shoulders are touching when marching. When halted the team should maintain a 4-inch distance between shoulders to facilitate equipment movement (going to Order, Right Shoulder or Present, etc.). Keep your free arm hanging at your side: you should feel your thigh move back and forth- do not move your hand with the seam of the trousers forward and backward when marching nor up and down when Marking Time. Keep that arm just like at Attention, not locked, but slightly stiffened.

Let me know if you need more info!

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Your Command Voice

Have you considered your command voice? Have you looked at your service’s manual and actually read about what it says on the proper way to call commands? No, it doesn’t say monotone is OK, it doesn’t say the gravel-in-your-throat style is a good style, it says use inflection, be clear and more! Read! Don’t rely on a senior cadet to tell you what you need to do (as with EVERYTHING else!)- read it for yourself!

“Well, I call commands like this.” “At my school we, [fill in the blank here].” Ever hear of standardization? That is what the military is about, standardizing. Your personal style, what you may think is really cool, does not matter. Stop it.

Click here to listen to some examples of commands in MP3 format and how to call them.

Also read this article, “Root Step” and Command Pronunciation.

When calling commands your voice should have inflection and NOT be monotone (some Navy cadets do this and I cannot figure out why). You should also enunciate each syllable and not leave off the first or last letter or substitute letters:

  • There is no such thing is “Righ, HACE“.
  • The USAF does allow, Forward, HARCH, (it’s in a picture, not text) the other services use MARCH.
  • There is no such thing as “A-Ten-Hut”, or any other number to bring a formation to Attention.
  • There is no need to growl your commands- that means you are calling from your throat. Stop, or you will have problems later in life.
  • There is no such thing is “Orward, ARCH“.

Here is a snippet from my book, The Honor Guard Manual.

•The ability of your voice to reach whatever distance necessary without undue strain.
•Voice is focused on the person farthest away.
•Assume the position of Attention, breathe properly, relax throat, open mouth and push the air out of your lungs from the diaphragm (place your hand on the top of your stomach, just under your ribcage and try to make those muscles tighten when giving commands).

Distinctness (Clarity)
•Distinct commands are effective; indistinct commands cause confusion.
•Clearly enunciate; use tongue, lips, and teeth to form words and word parts.
•Develop the ability to give clear, distinct commands. Practice giving commands slowly and carefully, prolonging the syllables. Gradually increase the rate of delivery to develop proper cadence, still enunciating each syllable distinctly.

Note: Honor Guard cadence is slow; approximately 90 beats per minute

•The rise and fall in pitch and the tone changes of the voice.
•Starting at a normal speaking voice, pronounce the preparatory command with rising inflection.
•A properly delivered Command of execution should have no inflection.
•Command of execution should have a higher pitch than the preparatory command.

•Expresses confidence and decisiveness
•Expresses knowledge of commands and proper execution
•Commands are called at the proper time and in the proper manner

So, now that you have the info, straight from the manual, you will be able to properly call commands!

Happy drilling!