‘Underdog’: JROTC drill team from DODEA school on Okinawa tops nation’s best
Stars and Stripes April 21, 2023
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — The drill team at Kubasaki High School has done something no other Dragon Battalion has done in 20 years — win the Marine Corps Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps national drill championship.
“It was amazing,” said Mia Vedsted, a Kubasaki senior and the Dragon Battalion cadet sergeant major. “We came in as the underdog. It was so great that we worked so hard, and we won it.”
For the national title, Kubasaki beat out seven other U.S. high schools on April 12 in Fredericksburg, Va. That was after placing first in a regional competition against 60 other high schools, including other Defense Department schools in the Pacific, schools on Guam and in Hawaii and all the way to the Mississippi River.
“I wasn’t expecting this,” said Brent Cook, 55, a retired Marine sergeant major who has drilled the battalion since 2018.
Being part of the Dragon Battalion is a heavy burden, given the many activities and events that are requested throughout the year, said Kenneth Gipson, a retired Marine captain who leads the battalion.
Battalion cadets are busy themselves. Vedsted, for example, is also a choir singer and participated in this week’s Department of Defense Education Activity-Pacific Far East honors music festival.
Of the 18 cadets who traveled to Virginia, six play a spring interscholastic sport.
“We train around sports,” Cook said. “We’re practicing after sports practices end. These other schools train year-round. It’s meet me at 5 p.m. in the gym to drill or come in on Saturday after track.”
Thus, the Dragon cadets get pulled in all directions, Gipson said.
“The kids don’t want to be locked into one thing. They want to be spread out,” he said. The sports coaches all want their people, “but we need them the whole year.”
Marine units, base clubs and other organizations affiliated with Marine camps seek out the Dragon Battalion for drill performances and color guard. “We like to fill those requests whenever possible,” Gipson said.
On top of that, the Dragon cadets immerse themselves in bake sales and car washes to raise money to travel to regional and national competitions.
And, of course, there’s schoolwork. Gipson said they’re not all 4.0 grade-point average students, “but they are motivated, and they stay on top of their work,” he said.
To qualify for the competition, Cook and the Dragons had to submit videos of them doing unarmed regulation, unarmed exhibition, color guard and inspection and hope theirs topped the 60 other schools in Region 4, the west region.
“Their performance in every category, they blew everybody away,” said Denis Carruth, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel and the Region 4 director.
In Virginia, the Dragon Battalion achieved perfect scores in two categories — inspection and color guard — and took second in unarmed regulation and fourth in unarmed exhibition.
Vedsted captured an individual honor, the unarmed regulation commander’s final, edging out Ximena Cervantes of Brenham, Texas, 241 to 240.
Vedsted is “the best commander in America,” said Dragon Battalion cadet Maj. Ryder Beaudoin.
Overall, Kubasaki edged out Tomball Memorial, also from Texas, 3,922.4 to 3,809.6 for first place.
“So many emotions were happening” when Kubasaki was announced as the winner, Vedsted said. “I was sobbing. People were cheering.”