(Steven Lane/The Columbian)
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Prairie High School Air Force Junior ROTC:
Battle Ground High School Air Force Junior ROTC:
(Steven Lane/The Columbian)
BRUSH PRAIRIE — With practiced precision and a flick of their wrists, Wade Alfson and Spencer Watson snap their rifles to each other, catch and flip their partners’ rifles 360 degrees through the air and snap them back again.
The two Prairie High School students and Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps cadets were competing in the duals exhibition drill competition, which involved fancy footwork and precise rifle throwing.
Last year as a sophomore at Prairie High School, Alfson, now 16, became the youngest Junior ROTC cadet to win the national championship in the singles exhibition drill competition. Alfson and his teammates from Prairie were among 11 high school JROTC teams — about 400 male and female cadets total — from western Washington and Oregon competing in the Northwest JROTC Drill and Rifle Championships, Columbia River Division Drill Meet on Saturday at Prairie High School. Teams came from as far north as Tacoma and as far south as Oregon City.
“It’s kind of like a track meet, where it’s all going on at once,” said Master Sgt. Randy Martin about the competition. Martin, who directs the Air Force Junior ROTC program at Prairie High School, explained that cadets are given a routine to memorize, and they’re judged on how well they execute the prescribed moves in the routine.
“Exhibition is more of a fancy-type thing,” Martin said. “The kids are doing wheels, criss-crosses. They get to spin rifles. Throw rifles.”
The cadets throw 8.67-pound replica rifles that don’t fire.
The Battle Ground and Prairie high school cadets participating in the competition said they plan on pursuing military careers.
“I want to become a U.S. Army major,” said national champion Alfson, who said his plan is to complete four years of college “and then apply for Ranger School.”
His teammate, Watson, plans to become a para-rescue jumper.
“It’s kind of like the Navy SEALs, but you’re a medic instead,” Watson explained.
Ryan Williamson, 15, a member of the Battle Ground High School Air Force JROTC dual team, hopes to receive an appointment to the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. His teammate, Trey Bardonski, 16, says he’s considering either the Naval Academy or perhaps a career as an anesthesiologist.
The dual competition was judged by Air Force ROTC Cadet Dylan McShane, 20, a computer science student at the University of Portland. A 2010 graduate of Battle Ground High School, McShane participated in the school’s Junior ROTC program all four years. He credits that experience for “teaching me about leadership, discipline, being a better citizen, getting involved in community.”
When he graduates college, he will commission as a second lieutenant in the Air Force.
The other judge was Army Reserve Drill Sgt. Victoria Parker, 27, a full-time student at Washington State University Vancouver. A military police officer, she served two tours in Iraq, but during her second tour, her unit lost 5 soldiers and sent 14 wounded soldiers home. She had the names of the five dead soldiers tattooed on her left biceps.
“I needed a break and decided to go to college on the post-911 G.I. Bill,” Parker said.
She’s studying criminal justice, sociology and psychology at WSU Vancouver, and plans to return to active duty after earning her degree in a few years.
Parker credits her high school involvement in the Junior ROTC program for advancing her military career.
“JROTC made my introduction to basic training easier,” she said. “It put me in a leadership position quickly and gave me a sense of what I was walking into.”