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Cadet Maj. Steve Gerard, 19, from Jacksonville, Fla., sounds off with other Alconbury High School students at the JROTC All-European Drill Competition on Saturday in Naples, Italy.

Cadet Maj. Steve Gerard, 19, from Jacksonville, Fla., sounds off with other Alconbury High School students at the JROTC All-European Drill Competition on Saturday in Naples, Italy. (Kendra Helmer / S&S)

Cadet Maj. Steve Gerard, 19, from Jacksonville, Fla., sounds off with other Alconbury High School students at the JROTC All-European Drill Competition on Saturday in Naples, Italy.

Cadet Maj. Steve Gerard, 19, from Jacksonville, Fla., sounds off with other Alconbury High School students at the JROTC All-European Drill Competition on Saturday in Naples, Italy. (Kendra Helmer / S&S)

Cadet Maj. Steve Gerard, flips a rifle while performing with his brother (in back), 1st Lt. Tommy Gerard. The Alconbury High School seniors, from Jacksonville, Fla., placed second in the armed exhibition duo at the 2003 All-European Drill Competition.

Cadet Maj. Steve Gerard, flips a rifle while performing with his brother (in back), 1st Lt. Tommy Gerard. The Alconbury High School seniors, from Jacksonville, Fla., placed second in the armed exhibition duo at the 2003 All-European Drill Competition. (Kendra Helmer / S&S)

A judge at the JROTC All-European Drill Competition scrutinizes 2nd Lt. David Vega, 17, from San Antonio, on Saturday in Naples, Italy. The Aviano High School senior took first place in the individual drill routine, beating out about 150 other students.

A judge at the JROTC All-European Drill Competition scrutinizes 2nd Lt. David Vega, 17, from San Antonio, on Saturday in Naples, Italy. The Aviano High School senior took first place in the individual drill routine, beating out about 150 other students. (Kendra Helmer / S&S)

Cadet Capt. Mona El Oueslati, 17, center, a junior from Gen. H.H. Arnold High School in Wiesbaden, Germany, and Staff Sgt. Elizabeth Taylor, 14, a freshman, salute at the JROTC All-European Drill Competition on Saturday in Naples, Italy. The cadet at left is not identied. The team took first in the unarmed exhibition competition.

Cadet Capt. Mona El Oueslati, 17, center, a junior from Gen. H.H. Arnold High School in Wiesbaden, Germany, and Staff Sgt. Elizabeth Taylor, 14, a freshman, salute at the JROTC All-European Drill Competition on Saturday in Naples, Italy. The cadet at left is not identied. The team took first in the unarmed exhibition competition. (Kendra Helmer / S&S)

Staff Sgt. Jules Hoehn, 18, from Beaver Creek, Colo., lines up in preparatory formation with fellow Ramstein High School students. Ramstein took home several awards, including overall champion and spirit award.

Staff Sgt. Jules Hoehn, 18, from Beaver Creek, Colo., lines up in preparatory formation with fellow Ramstein High School students. Ramstein took home several awards, including overall champion and spirit award. (Kendra Helmer / S&S)

NAPLES, Italy — Cadet Maj. Adrian Martinez carefully walked up a staircase formed by rifles held by his teammates, rising steadily higher until he stood atop rifles balanced on the other cadets’ shoulders.

The unique move helped the Junior ROTC team from Ramstein High School in Germany take home top honors at the All-European Drill Competition on Saturday in Naples, Italy.

“I call it ‘the stairway to heaven,’” said Adrian, 17, from El Paso, Texas, when the exhibition was over.

“You should’ve seen the judges’ faces!” a fellow cadet said as he slapped Adrian on the back and team members congratulated one another.

The clicks of rifles hitting asphalt and yells from cadets sounding off lasted about six hours on the sunny afternoon, as about 150 students from nine Department of Defense Dependents Schools sweated out various drills, exhibitions and inspections.

The competition was the culmination of months of practice. Several students had been drilling a couple of hours a day since the fall for the event.

Participating teams came from Navy and Air Force JROTC teams at Ramstein, Kaiserslautern and Gen. H.H. Arnold in Wiesbaden, all in Germany; Naples, Aviano and Sigonella high schools in Italy; and Lakenheath, Alconbury and London Central in England.

For many, the competition started with a lengthy journey. For Wiesbaden, it was a 20-hour bus trip.

“It was long and stinky,” laughed Cadet Capt. Mona El Oueslati, 17, a junior.

Several parents made the trip, too, and for some, just getting there was a challenge.

Angie Peters, mother of Shannon Peters, a member of the Ramstein team, took a military hop from Ramstein. It took her two days to reach Naples, with stops in Aviano, Sigonella and Sardinia.

But she was glad she went. “You bet it’s worth it,” she said.

Once the competition began, the cadets were all business. Among them were a brother team of Cadet Maj. Steve Gerard and 1st Lt. Tommy Gerard, who flipped rifles in the duo armed exhibition. The 19-year-old Alconbury High School seniors from Jacksonville, Fla., plan to join the Navy and Navy Reserves after graduation.

Tommy Gerard said he joined JROTC to learn ranks, “and we get to play with guns.”

Steve Gerard said JROTC got him from running with a bad group of friends.

“It turned me from a noisy punk adolescent into a young, mature adult,” he said.

The final competition was the individual drill routine, similar to “Simon Says.”

All the cadets stood in formation and followed commands. Judges walked the rows, carefully scrutinizing the students’ crisp turns, salutes and heel clicks.

They tapped out the cadets until the only person left standing was 2nd Lt. David Vega, 17, an Aviano senior from San Antonio.

Afterward, while receiving congratulations, he was still pumped up — and relieved.

“I was thinking, ‘Don’t pass out,’” David said.

One of the judges for the day was Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Cruz Perez, 35, a cryptologic technician at Allied Forces South in Naples. He volunteered for the duty because he’d never seen a JROTC competition before.

“I kind of hate to tap them out when they’re working so hard,” he said.

Winners list

Winners for the 2003 All-European Drill Competition:

Overall championRamstein High School, Germany

Spirit AwardRamstein

Inspection1st: Gen. H.H. Arnold High School, Wiesbaden, Germany2nd: Naples, Italy3rd: Ramstein

Regulation Drill1st: Ramstein2nd: Kaiserslautern, Germany3rd: Gen. H.H. Arnold

Color Guard1st: Ramstein2nd: Kaiserslautern3rd: Lakenheath, England

Rifle team1st: Ramstein2nd: Kaiserslautern3rd: Gen. H.H. Arnold

Saber team1st: Gen. H.H. Arnold2nd: Ramstein3rd: Naples

Unarmed exhibition1st: Gen. H.H. Arnold2nd: Ramstein3rd: Kaiserslautern

Armed exhibition (solo)Ramstein

Armed exhibition (duo)1st: Lakenheath2nd: Alconbury, England


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