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NJROTC builds strong cadet corps

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By Tom Hanlon

The Los Alamos High School Navy Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (NJROTC) made history on Feb. 22 by qualifying to the Navy National Drill Meet.
It traveled to Las Cruces to compete in the Area 9 Regional Drill meet and swept the competition. The LAHS NJROTC placed in every single event at the meet and beat the second place team by 700 points.
Drill meets consist of many events, but the main competition is the drill team performance. In regulation drill, the platoon marches to a set of commands given by the platoon commander. In exhibition drill, the platoon develops its own set of movements that involves marching in patterns and performing actions in sync.
When the platoon is armed, exhibition often includes throwing and spinning rifles. In addition to these events there are also the physical fitness competition, the academic competition, the color guard performances and a uniform inspection.
Each cadet in the platoon is usually inspected by active duty soldiers, marines and midshipmen while standing at the position of attention.
Gunnery Sergeant Bret Painter has been the naval science instructor at Los Alamos High School for the past six-and-a-half years and is the drill team coach.
“The teams are really about teamwork, being there for one another, showing up to practices on time, responsibility and fun. And if we do those things then winning happens naturally,” Painter said.
The Los Alamos NJROTC boasts a large selection of teams and activities. Lieutenant Commander Wes Shumaker coaches the air rifle team and has been with the program for 12 years.
“Competition shooting is really a mental sport; it takes a lot of concentration. I think the people that enjoy doing it feel the satisfaction of seeing themselves improve over time,” he said.
A select few of the shooters will leave on March 20 to compete in the All Service JROTC National Championship shooting competition. “Several of the people shooting this year have been shooting for four years. It takes a long time to develop shooters,” Shumaker said. Most of the marksmen practice at least three times a week for roughly an hour.
When students join the Los Alamos NJROTC they are given the opportunity to join the physical fitness team, the academic team, the orienteering team and the cyber patriot team.
Each team is led by a captain as a way of instilling leadership qualities in cadets. This year the unit has one of the largest cadet corps — numbering 98 students — in its history.
“When I first got here, people didn’t really know what NJROTC was really about. Parents in the area didn’t know that we were kind of a community service organization. I think communication and general advertisement of the unit has increased the numbers,” Painter said.
Also, special events are hosted for the cadet corps throughout the school year. The Military ball — complete with a court — is a particular highlight for most cadets. Military balls are a tradition in the armed forces as well as in most JROTC units. The Los Alamos NJROTC also invites a guest speaker to the ball every year and includes ceremonies such as the sword arch, where cadets create an arch with sabers for the court to walk through.
An award ceremony is held twice a year to recognize cadet accomplishments and present the cadets with ribbons and medals. Informal events are also organized such as movie nights and other functions that are meant to build the bond between cadets.  
“I hope the benefit for cadets would be learning a little about leadership and first about followership. I want them to learn how to work as a team and trust each other,” Painter said.