Air Force JROTC unit aims high at national drill event

  • Published
  • By Christian P. Hodge
  • Headquarters Air Force Junior ROTC Public Affairs

Air Force JROTC drill teams from across the country assembled for the Air Force JROTC Open Drill Nationals in Dayton, Ohio, March 19, 2022.

Typically referred to as the Air Force Nationals, this capstone event encapsulates a year or more of perseverance, practice and precision to recognize the best drill teams across the AFJROTC enterprise.

“Inspiring a drill team to dedicate hundreds of hours to compete at the national level is a huge undertaking but, in the end, watching these cadets prove to themselves and their peers that anything is possible when you work hard enough is the ultimate goal of our program.” said retired Master Sgt. Joel Barnett, aerospace science instructor, Waller High School, AFJROTC Unit TX-20065, Waller, Texas. “From day one they are using their leadership and followership skills to make the goal possible.”

Their school has two drill teams, one armed and one unarmed. The Warhawk Armed Drill Team is comprised of two seniors, five juniors, three sophomores and one freshman. The Phantom Unarmed Drill Team is comprised of two seniors, two juniors, five sophomores and three freshmen.

“The cadets that make up Waller High School’s drill teams are very motivated and seem to be the ones that volunteer for the most community service and other cadet corps initiatives,” said Barnett.

The Phantom Unarmed Drill Team, commanded by Cadet 1st Lt. Havannah Sierra, won the Air Force National Championship, taking first place in the Regulation Category, first place in the Color Guard Category and first place in the Exhibition Category. The Warhawk Armed Team, commanded by Cadet Capt. Kyle Sanders, took second place in Exhibition Category, third place in the Inspection Category, fourth place in Color Guard and placed fifth overall.

The annual event is set up and executed by Sports Network International. The organization does this for all the services’ national JROTC drill events.

“I’ve been doing this for 33 years and am well versed in the rules,” said Justin Gates, vice president and competition director, Sports Network International. “I do everything from taking out the trash to setting up entire drill competitions.” 

Gates is in charge of establishing the rules, securing the judges and coordinating the entire Air Force Nationals JROTC drill competition.

“Getting emails from cadets that are now all grown up but remember an event that changed their lives, that’s the most rewarding part of the job,” said Gates. “The Air Force event in Dayton is probably the best National with regards to being represented by judges.”

The judges are typically Air Force officers and noncommissioned officers who volunteer their time. Gates said the cadets see them as role models. 

The Air Force JROTC Open Drill Nationals remains the annual home to many of the finest AFJROTC programs for almost two decades, according to Sports Network International’s website ( 

The event continues to provide a valuable experience for all AFJROTC cadets looking to be a part of a one-of-a-kind, Air Force-only JROTC drill competition wrapped in a first-class setting, the website said.