Every weekday bright and early, I arrive at Marmion with a less than sunny demeanor and an amazement that anybody can function so early. Nevertheless, I continue through the double doors and hear the familiar pang of a replica 8.9-pound M1903A3 Springfield rifle bounce against the field house floor.
A tremendous amount of hard work and concentration goes into making that sound, and, where one finds this sound, one will also find passion.
For the members of the Marmion Flannigan Rifles Drill Team, drill becomes more than the usual Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps marching and inspection; it becomes a daily challenge to memorize an incredible amount of rifle spins and marching steps.
Military drill is a unique tradition of discipline and rigor. In basic terms, drill refers to synchronized marching and movement in units. Military drill teams, such as the Flannigan Rifles, excel at marching routines and have squads that specialize in rifle handling and spinning.
Sgt. Maj. John Gissel (retired), the instructor of the Flannigan Rifles, has taught in the military department at Marmion and coached the drill team since 1996. Before every Marmion JROTC Battalion formation, one can see SGM Gissel coordinating cadets and preparing for the review.
Every weekday morning, from 6:30 to 7:20, SGM Gissel and the drill team practice their sequences and rehearse for competitions against other JROTC high school battalions. Chris Voirin, a current Marmion senior and commander of the Flannigan Rifles, and Andrew Graves, also a senior and executive officer, lead practices.
When competition draws near, the team prepares on weekends and vacations from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Needless to say, the members of the drill team are some of the most dedicated and hardworking individuals I know. Commander Voirin calls the dedication of the members voluntarily: “They want to be there and want to be the best, which is ultimately our goal.”
On the weekend of May 3 and 4, the Flannigan Rifles traveled to Daytona, Florida, to compete in the National High School Drill Team Championships. Out of the 43 top tier teams across all four JROTC branches, they placed third overall and won multiple top five finishes in squad and platoon events, taking first in Exhibition Squad and first in the Solo. Among the other Army JROTC drill teams, the Flannigan Rifles placed first.
SGM Gissel cites Graves and Voirin’s leadership as having a “trickledown effect” upon the other seniors, and he says the dedication of each member contributed to the success at the 2014 National event: “The sincere dedication from each member whether they are on the National’s team or not is very critical and a direct result from the seniors.”
Also, he thanks the parents behind each member of the team.
When asked about the National event next year, SGM Gissel replied: “The makeup of the team and the leadership in place for 2014-15 is fully capable of a strong showing if not a National title.”
• Kurt Zepeda is a St. Charles resident and a senior at Marmion Academy in Aurora. He enjoys running, writing and the occasional confection. His column runs every other Thursday in the Kane County Chronicle. Contact him at email@example.com.