It took nearly two weeks for it to hit Cadet Maj. Kentearial Ward that something important had happened to the Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps Unarmed Regulation Drill Team she commands at Mundy's Mill High School.
On Feb. 6, the 13-member, all-female team did something unprecedented for the school's five-year-old Air Force JROTC unit it finished among the nation's top JROTC units at a national competition.
The team came in second place, out of more than 80 U.S. Air Force, Army, Marine Corps and Navy high school JROTC units, at the Coca-Cola National Drill Meet in Montgomery, Ala.
"It didn't sink in that we finished second in the nation until [Thursday] morning," said Ward, a junior at the school. "I'm really proud of my team. We've worked very hard to get where we are, and I'm glad to have beat out [almost all of] the other teams."
Mundy's Mill JROTC coach, Lt. Col. Raymond "Sky" King, said this is the best finish a team from Mundy's Mill's JROTC program has ever posted at a national competition. There was a team from the school that competed at a national competition a couple of years ago, he said, but it did not do well enough to place in the final standings.
The school has won the last three Clayton County JROTC competitions, King said, but he said this is different. "Part of their mission statement for this year was to have a lasting legacy, and they have done that by doing so well at this national competition," he said.
Mundy's Mill's cadets were bested at the national competition earlier this month by a team from Spring, Texas, King said.
"They've worked hard and trained hard," he said. "It hasn't always been pleasant ... but when it comes time for them to perform, they go out and perform well."
Cadet Col. Aba Harley, a senior, added, "I feel like we put our all into it and did what we had to do."
As a drill team, marching makes up a lot of what the team's members do. As they march, they also perform actions like chain-march steps, come lefts, come rights, left flanks, and right flanks.
Ward said the team practices marching for a total of seven hours per week. While other Clayton students are out of school for Christmas and winter breaks, the drill team is at school, practicing marching steps.
"We march all the time," Ward said.
"It's kind of become our normal walk," Harley said. "When we walk, we march."
The key to being successful as a drill team, cadets said, is being precise and having everyone perform the same movements in unison. "If she [Ward] calls a right face, everybody has to snap, and do it in precision," said Cadet Lt. Col. Tiana Williams, a junior at the school. "Everybody's arms swing at the same time. Everybody takes a step, with the same leg, at the same time."
The team will next compete at a state Air Force Junior ROTC competition at East Paulding High School, in Dallas, on March 6, King said. He said the winner of that competition will earn a trip to the National Air Force Junior ROTC competition in Warner Robins, in April.
The national Air Force Junior ROTC program will pay for the winner of the national competition to attend an international competition that includes all military branches, in Daytona Beach, Fla., in May, King said.
Now that the team has finished second in this year's Coca-Cola National Drill Meet, King said the bar has been raised and the expectations will be higher when the team returns to that same competition next year. There are only two seniors on this year's team, he said.
"We're going to win it all next year," King said. "We don't go backwards."