Killeen High School Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps reigned supreme during the JROTC Skills Meet Saturday at Duncan Elementary, taking home their fourth consecutive championship.

“The caliber of cadets and their level of expertise was very impressive,” Terri Jones, school liaison officer with Fort Hood’s Child and Youth Services, said. “They spend countless hours training, critiquing and practicing to achieve this level of performance. Their commitment to excellence and doing their best is evident in each event they perform.”

Seven area schools – Belton High School, C.E. Ellison High School, Harker Heights High School, Hendrickson High School, Killeen High School, North Side High School and Robert M. Shoemaker High School – competed in the annual event, which is organized by the Child and Youth Services’ School Liaison Office. While Jones said all the schools performed well, Killeen HS stood out in all the drill and color guard categories.

“Killeen High School has a history of winning ‘Overall Champion’ of the Fort Hood JROTC Skills Meet,” Jones said. “All cadets have a competitive spirit, and all schools were winners at some level during the Skills Meet Saturday.”

The schools were judged in several categories, including armed and unarmed drill, color guard, physical fitness and academics. The schools were graded by inspectors from various units from across the installation. The School Liaison Office connected with the schools’ Adopt-a-School unit to participate in the JROTC Skills Meet. Throughout the day, the inspectors said the biggest thing they look for is uniformity.

“We’re looking to see if they’re moving as one unit – everybody is in step, everybody understands the commands and the facing movements are precise,” Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Ganious, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, explained.

Ganious served as one of the senior inspectors in charge of the armed drill competitions. He said that while the formation commander gives commands, he or she must also be motivated and keep the formation motivated. He said the formation reacts based on the commander’s demeanor.

“The commander is pretty much the energy of the formation,” Ganious explained. “The more energy that he or she gives, the more likely they are to respond.”

He said all the schools Saturday did a wonderful job taking the lead from their formation commander.

Weather, COVID and other issues caused delayed rehearsal for a lot of the schools, which normally spend months preparing for the competition.

“We actually finished our exhibition routine earlier this week,” Command Sgt. Maj. Jonathon Ballard, Killeen HS JROTC instructor, revealed. “They performed their whole exhibition for the first time on Friday.”

Destiny Delgadillo, commander of the armed drill formation at Harker Heights HS, said that she created her team’s intricate exhibition routine, which included twirling the rifles, coordinated passes and other difficult moves. While they normally have about a month and a half to practice, she said things were hampering their practice time, so they had only practiced for two weeks.

“Two of them (cadets) are new to the drill team, so I’m very proud of them,” she added.

Jean Shine, civilian aide to the Secretary of the Army and Fort Hood Good Neighbor, said this year’s competition was the first she had ever attended and was impressed by all the schools.

“It is so impressive how dedicated they are and how precise they are,” she said. “The different phases of this is what’s so amazing. It’s going to be a tough decision.”

Only Belton HS and Killeen HS competed in all the categories. Belton HS came in first place in one individual category; Killeen HS came in first place in five individual categories; North Side HS came in first place in one individual category; Ellison HS came in first place in two individual categories; and Harker Heights came in first place in three individual categories.

Ellison HS came in first place overall in the armed drill category; Killeen HS came in first place overall in the unarmed drill category; Belton HS came in first place overall in the male/co-ed color guard and the overall female color guard categories; and North Side HS came in first place overall in the combined physical fitness category and the overall academic challenge.

“The Soldiers were impressed with the level of knowledge and skills the cadets have developed. Most high school students spend their time with other interests and activities,” Jones said about the Soldiers who were judging the competitions. “Cadets are definitely following a less traveled path and many continue this as a career. Several of the Soldiers shared memories of their own high school JROTC experiences – a walk down memory lane – and how this impacted their decision to join the military.”

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the schools rotated their arrival time throughout the day, so there were not a lot of people together in one place. Because of this, the winners of the 12 individual categories, six overall categories and grand champion were not announced until Monday. Overall, Jones said she believes the event was very successful and she was impressed by all the schools.

“Each group of cadets has a deep level of respect for the others as they experience what it takes to compete and win,” Jones added. “These are strong attributes that will contribute to their positive futures.”