Honoring Excellence: Assistant Secretary Engages with Cadets at Prestigious Drill Competition

  • Published
  • By Keith H. Bland, Air Force Junior ROTC Public Affairs

The Honorable Alex Wagner, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Manpower and Reserve Affairs, attended the Air Force Junior ROTC Open Drill Nationals competition in Fairborn, Ohio March 16. Throughout the day, Wagner engaged with cadets and instructors, culminating in his keynote address during the awards ceremony.

The event, hosted at the Nutter Center on the campus of Wright State University, brought together over 500 cadets, instructors, coaches, and parents from 24 high schools across 11 U.S. states and Germany. Wagner closely observed various phases of the competition, including unarmed regulation drill, armed color guard, and a rigorous military inspection. Cadets executed precise movements with specialized equipment, demonstrating their discipline and attention to detail.

Drill is the epitome of meticulous attention to small details for big impact.The Honorable Alex Wagner, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Manpower and Reserve Affairs

In his address, Wagner expressed admiration for the cadets’ performance: “You have done an incredible job, and you should be so proud of yourselves.”

The Open Drill Nationals serves as the pinnacle of service-level national championships for Air Force Junior ROTC units. Military drill, an essential part of the instructional program imparts essential skills such as teamwork, leadership, attention to detail, discipline, respect, physical endurance, and mental focus. Cadets learn to give and execute commands, developing their instructional abilities while learning to communicate clearly and confidently.

Wagner told the following story from his recent visit to Antarctica to illustrate the impact of doing “small things” well. “Every summer, members of the Air National Guard fly from the United States to spend eight weeks at the bottom of the world in minus 50 degrees. They sit in these little trucks on the flight line for 12-hour shifts to make sure nothing catches on fire and to stop it when it does. Sitting in a truck for 12 hours in -50° weather probably doesn't feel like having a huge impact, but these firefighters are making it possible for people, for equipment, for food, to safely move in and out of Antarctica. Because of them, the National Science Foundation can do the kind of research that affects how the entire world responds to climate change. Tell me, what is more important than that?”

Wagner also met with Samantha Ste. Claire, President and CEO of Sports Network International which produces the competition, to ask about the relevance of teaching drill. Ste. Claire said, “People do not start out with drill with some particular skillset that makes them uniquely qualified where they stand out. They get better because they choose to get better. It takes more time and practice than anything Junior ROTC does. Drill is like a laboratory--it’s learning grit. Junior ROTC will pull that out of you. Any program that can fuel that is priceless.”

Wagner concluded his keynote address with encouraging words for the cadets, instructors, and parents, saying, “I'd be lying if I told you that making big, impactful changes was easy. Sometimes when we're moving commas around or waiting for something to catch on fire, it's easy to get discouraged. But I'm here to tell you that when you focus on something, it matters. When you show up, when you are committed, when you are focused and consistent, you can have an impact, and you can change lives.”

The event concluded with Wagner presenting trophies to the Air Force Junior ROTC National Champions. This year, Beavercreek High School from Ohio won the overall team championship in both the armed and unarmed divisions.