HISTORY OF MILITARY DRILL
With a world-wide reach and a long history dating back to the Revolutionary War, precision military drill has grown through the hard work, dedication and innovation of those gifted and talented individuals who nurtured and taught many generations to bring us where we are today. The first documented performance of exhibition drill was performed by Mr. Hadji Cheriff at what is believed to be the Midway Plaisance of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Illinois. The film was later copyrighted by Thomas Edison in 1899, entitled "The Arabian Gun Twirler." The performance demonstrates a basic aerial toss (two, 1-1/2 over-hand thrown from the firing hammer) and also an over the shoulder technique with a rather remarkable display of over-the-head drill (OTH), and ends right after an under the leg inverted spin.
Military drill began its march to ascendancy initially through the work Baron Frederick Von Steuben around the time of the Revolutionary War. Baron von Steuben was a trained, military specialist who changed the way the Continental Army worked during the American War for Independence. Regarding drill, he began by training a core group of soldiers and they in turn, trained the rest of the army in a descending pattern. The key: simplicity. He reduced the motions in the manual of arms to ten...he implemented a standard pace and cadence and to keep step in a march without the use of a drum simply by watching the officer at the head of the column. He is basically the genesis of all marching done by the United States military.
Further early push in military drill came from none other than General John "Black Jack" Pershing around 1900. Pershing wished to increase the morale and discipline of the battalion he commanded, as well as to increase support for the Cadet Corps throughout the university's staff and community. To this end, he formed a hand-picked company of men, known as Company A, and made them his premier drill unit. Military exhibition drill excellence was begun that day in Omaha, Nebraska.
Just decades later, the four service branches capitalized on this popular movement and created service drill & ceremony units. The most famous of these remain the U.S. Marine Corps Silent Drill Platoon, as well as the U.S. Army Drill Team, formed from within The Old Guard, the soldiers assigned the duty to protect the President in Washington, DC. The United States Marine Corps Silent Drill Platoon is a 24-man rifle platoon of the United States Marine Corps. Often referred to as The Marching Twenty-Four, the unit performs unique silent precision exhibition drill. The purpose of the platoon is to exemplify the discipline and professionalism of the Marine Corps. The Silent Drill Platoon first performed in 1948, originally as a one-time show, and received such an overwhelming response that it soon became part of the routine parades at Marine Barracks, Washington, D.C.
Just after this time, the 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) established the U.S. Army Drill Team. The 3rd Infantry is the official Escort to the President of the United States and the nation's Premier Memorial Affairs and Ceremonial Unit. Old Guard Soldiers are in Arlington National Cemetery daily rendering final honors to our fallen, both past and present. The U.S Army Drill Team performs annually as part of Twilight Tattoo (May and June) and Spirit of America (September), and year round at various public events. The U.S. Army Drill Team was organized to concentrate on precise marching and crisp rifle drill. They have supported The Old Guard's ceremonial missions, thrilling millions of youngsters and proud Americans for more than 50 years.
In the years that followed, both the Air Force (U.S. Air Force Drill Team)and the Navy (US Navy Presidential Ceremonial Honor Guard Drill Team) would assemble exhibition performance drill units in the Washington, DC area for the same benefits as those mentioned above.
College units formed in a military style through the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program, along with and the Junior version (JROTC) sponsored by the United States Armed Forces. These programs were originally created as part of the National Defense Act of 1916 and later expanded under the 1964 ROTC Vitalization Act. These programs are loaned equipment and instructors (active duty in ROTC, retired in JROTC) and taught within a military framework. While the programs are vastly different in content and style, they are similar in that they both utilize and have popularized military drill around the world.
While a few college drill units have set the standard through the years for solid drill (Texas A&M Fish Drill Team from College Station, Texas being a leading example), the bulk of quality exhibition drill has been performed at the high school level through the Junior ROTC units. The epicenter for exhibition drill excellence for the past several decades has been in the state of Texas and more specifically, in the shadows of the Alamo in San Antonio. Led in the 1970 by drill pioneer Jimmy Howard, San Antonio as a city exploded in population growth through the 1990's and this proved to be both a benefit and a negative to the drill superiority this city has maintained to this day.
In the early 1970's, 1980's and early 1970's, Central Catholic HS in San Antonio performed on a superior level and reined supreme in the Western United States while LaSalle Military Academy from Long Island, New York reigned supreme on the East Coast. Then in the mid 1990's, both Theodore Roosevelt HS under the direction of Colonel Jim Rose, and Winston Churchill HS under the direction Major Greg Mikesell, stormed to the pinnacle of drill excellence with routines and cadet performances that had never been seen. The team name "Blackwatch" (W. Churchill, armed) and Lady Rough Riders (T. Roosevelt, unarmed) to this day denote a level of excellence that was and still to this day is in many respects unparalleled. Through the 1990's, these were the dominant teams in the entire nation. But as the population of the city began to expand, and these two drill pioneers retired from JROTC instruction, new schools were built that carved more and more of the talent pool from these dominant programs. What this did was make San Antonio an amazing force in drill, easily hosting 6-8 of the top 30 drill programs in the nation as they built more and more schools. John Jay HS, Thomas C. Clark HS, Brandeis HS (all Air Force), along with Ronald Reagan HS, James Madison HS, Douglas MacArthur and the venerable Churchill and Roosevelt all carried home hardware by the truckload at drill competitions, performed in city and event state services for the governor, state senators, and other visiting dignitaries.
Simultaneous with this happening, across the nation JROTC was vastly expanding into more and more high schools. At the urging and sponsorship of Gen. Colin Powell, these JROTC programs were further expanded in the early 1990s to more and more schools. At the same time, Sports Network International, host of the largest and finest collection of drill & ceremony teams in the nation, began producing a videotape series entitled, "The Best of Series". The VHS tapes featured exhibition drill routines from many of the greatest drill & ceremony units involved in Junior ROTC. These videos helped to explode with light speed the spread of drill excellence around the world as teams learned from watching. This accelerated the learning curve immensely over the previous method of seeing the same teams you see all the time in your local meets. Soon, scores of schools across the country in this newly expanded pool of drill devotees had competition drill & ceremony units and they were competing at higher and higher levels.
Not long after this occurred in the early 2000's, Flour Bluff HS from Corpus Christi, Texas under the leadership of CDR Armando Solis and Fern Creek HS from Louisville, Kentucky began to assert dominance that lasted multiple years. As the decade came to a close, more and more drill talent was forming across the nation and the days of having a single school dominate for multiple years was thought to be a long gone idea due largely to the amazing talent pool of teams that now were involved in competition drill as opposed to the relative few just a decade prior. But just as this idea began to take hold, two high school JROTC units have begun to distance themselves from the pack and have made a run to be looked at as a new dominant force in the drill universe. Douglas MacArthur HS (San Antonio, Texas) and Francis Lewis HS (Fresh Meadows, New York) have put together top finishes for several years and show no signs of stopping. Only time will tell of these hard chargers can make a lasting, permanent name for themselves in the history of military drill.