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“Please rise for the national anthem and the presentation of the colors.” Immediately, the thousands of people attending this Memorial Day program rise in reverent silence. It’s 9:30 in morning, the sun illuminates the Star-Spangled Banner, and the wind lifts Her gently for all to see. It’s go time.
“Guard, A-ten-HUT!” The energy that has built up in my diaphragm unleashes as my voice breaks the stillness. All eyes turn to the cadets that comprise the color guard: to the Pennsylvania flag-bearer on my left; to the two flanking riflemen; and to the American flag rippling brightly, anchored to my arm.
“Carry, COLORS!” The Pennsylvania flag-bearer and I hoist our flags up, and the riflemen lift their weapons to their shoulders, all in perfect synchronization.
“Forward, MARCH!” Together, we step off, shoulder to shoulder. We march as a team, relying on each other’s pace to stay in step as we maneuver towards the audience’s front and center.
“Guard, HALT! Present, COLORS!” We immediately stop. The Pennsylvania Flag dips to a precise 45 degree angle, the rifles move crisply to the saluting position, and the American Flag stands proudly in all Her glory. I hear the snare drums roll, and I feel a tingle down my spine, as the band begins to play.
The National Anthem concludes, and we head out. I dismiss the guard, and immediately a “SIR, YES, SIR” erupts from the other three cadets and resounds across the field. We pack our equipment, and I commend them on a job superbly done. This ceremony was the two riflemen’s first, and I think how far they have come since I taught them the basics at their first practice several months prior.
My thoughts turn to my own first year in AFJROTC when I learned that, in addition to other services, our unit provided color guards for different events around the community. I was sold–I wanted the honor of carrying the American flag during the Presentation Ceremony.
The first drill practice came around; that day, I learned how to stand at attention, how to execute different facing movements, how to salute. The next week: how to march, bear the flags, and carry a rifle. Weeks of training accumulated into months of commitment, and under the commanders’ seemingly contradictory combination of patience and strictness, my knowledge of drill flourished. At last, I could participate in color guards at various functions, award ceremonies, and football games; over time, I grew more and more experienced.
The next year, I joined Advanced Drill, commanded an Armed Regulation team, and voluntarily helped teach the first-years. It was at this point that I began to advance my leadership skills, as well as to develop an appreciation for helping others learn and for passing on my abilities to the following generations. When I was appointed Color Guard Commander, my roles as teacher and leader increased, and my skills continued to evolve. I have since learned how to work with others, how to give orders without sounding bossy, and most importantly, how to direct a team to accomplish a goal. My confidence, in both myself and my cadets, has strengthened. In turn, I have earned their trust and that of my superiors.
This year, my instructors appointed me Unit Commander, and they expected me to step down from Color Guard Commander. In response, I explained that I would rather forego command of the unit. (Fortunately, it did not reach that point.) To me, there is no greater honor than carrying the American flag, and I will continue to do so as long as possible.
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