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The Kubasaki Marine Corps Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps drill team traveled to Daytona Beach, Fla., to compete in the National High School Drill Championships, where it placed third in the Masters Level. From left: Kubasaki seniors Cadet 1st Lt. Dennis Gonzales, Cadet Capt. Josh Berardo and Cadet Lt. Col. Nicholas Smith hold trophies and a certificate of excellence that the school’s team brought back to Okinawa.
The Kubasaki Marine Corps Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps drill team traveled to Daytona Beach, Fla., to compete in the National High School Drill Championships, where it placed third in the Masters Level. From left: Kubasaki seniors Cadet 1st Lt. Dennis Gonzales, Cadet Capt. Josh Berardo and Cadet Lt. Col. Nicholas Smith hold trophies and a certificate of excellence that the school’s team brought back to Okinawa. (Fred Zimmerman / S&S)

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — The Kubasaki Marine Corps Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps drill team recently returned to Okinawa with trophies in hand from the National High School Drill Championships in Daytona Beach, Fla.

Members of the only Department of Defense Dependents School team to compete, they used M-14 rifles to take third place in their division — Demilitarized Arms Masters — beating out 38 schools from 17 states.

No real surprises there, indicated Larry McNair, a retired Marine master sergeant who’s now the school’s JROTC instructor. “We left Okinawa feeling that we were top five material,” he said. “I always believed we were top three but I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy task.”

The national competition is run under Army regulations, which allow variations of drill movements. But, McNair said, his unit doesn’t operate that way.

“It’s hard to win with Marine drill at nationals,” he said. “We were the only Marine school there that drilled 100 percent Marine drill.”

McNair said other Marine units adapted their routines and added Army movements. But, he said, “Kubasaki High School showed, without a doubt, that strict Marine drill can survive at the nationals.”

This was the first year the Kubasaki team competed at the Masters Level in the Demilitarized Arms Division at nationals, McNair said. The team competed in 2001 and 2002 in the Challenge Level, finishing respectively as runner-up and in first place. McNair said the team took last year off to focus and prepare for the next level.

This year’s team ranks in the top three he’s coached, he said — but when it comes to teamwork, they’re the best he’s ever seen.

The team had just one member who had competed nationally before, Cadet Lt. Col. Nicholas Smith, the battalion commander. He said he helped prep the team by telling them what the competition was like when he went. But he admitted he also was amazed at the level of competition. “I can go into Far East and know we’ll come out on top,” he said, “but masters at nationals is another level.”

Cadet Capt. Josh Berardo, the unit’s executive officer, said, “I was expecting top 10, so getting top three, I was really surprised.”

Cadet 1st Lt. Dennis Gonzales, a senior like Smith and Berardo, said he’ll remember most the pressure he felt to perform. “But as soon you get on the drill floor, you’re in a trance,” he said. “You just remember everything you’re taught ... it just flows through you.”

Team members said capturing their awards took practicing two or three hours a day, five days a week — and on plenty of Friday nights and Saturdays during “drill camp.” And, they said, they’re especially proud to be the number one Marine Corps JROTC team in the nation.

“It was a lot of long hours,” McNair said. “Many young people would have said, ‘Enough is enough.’ They had some really tough practices … I’m not the easiest man to get along with. But they don’t have a lot of competitions to work the butterflies out, so I have to be tough.”

He also plans ahead. The unit’s next goal, McNair said: Go back to nationals and pick up where this year’s team left off.

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