Air Force drill team performs at armory

by Kristin Frey

An eerie silence Friday pervaded the University’s armory gym as the U.S. Air Force Honor Guard Drill Team tossed and gracefully maneuvered rifle-bayonets in perfect precision.

The performance, which attracted more than 150 people, was part of the team’s five-day Minnesota tour. The team also performed Friday at the Timberwolves game and Saturday at the Mall of America.

Friday’s performance gave the University’s Air Force ROTC drill team a chance to watch a professional team, said Maj. Greg Webster of the University’s Air Force ROTC.

“We have a drill team in the core, so it is nice for the team to come out and mentor our students,” Webster said.

Cadet MacKenzie Collatz said the performance gave her new ideas for routines she has to write as part of her duty as drill team commander.

“It’s great to see active duty military,” the University junior said.

The U.S. Air Force Honor Guard Drill Team began in 1948, one year after the Air Force split from the Army to create a separate division.

There are 300 men in the United States on the Air Force Honor Guard and 28 on the Air Force Honor Guard Drill Team, said Neil Arnold, a senior airman for the team.

“The best of us travel,” he said.

There are four-man and 12-man teams, Arnold said.

The team spends one week a month at Bolling Air Force Base in Washington and spends the rest of the time traveling around the world performing, with the team going to Europe next month, he said.

The team performs at colleges, high schools, basketball games and funerals at Arlington National Cemetery, he said.

Arnold said he serves active Air Force duty while on the drill team, and that it is an honor to be a part of the team.

Many grueling hours are spent running through routines and practicing toss-offs and slick maneuvers using a 15-pound M-1 Garand rifle with a sharp bayonet on the end, he said.

“It’s my third year on the team so it is natural now,” Arnold said. “I zone out and wake up at the end of the show.”

Robert Hutchinson, a senior airman for the team, said tossing around a rifle at swift speeds with a sharp weapon on the end can be very dangerous.

“There are broken fingers, dislocated thumbs, cuts on the back and tendentious,” he said.

Ben Rhoda, University junior and ROTC first-year drill team member, said although there is no weapon on the end of their rifles, there is a lot of pressure to perform well.

He said watching the U.S. Air Force drill team performance was a great tool for those on the ROTC drill team.

“Anything they do, we can adopt or incorporate into our routines,” Rhoda said.