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JROTC Raiders ready to roll

Teamwork was on display as the JROTC Raiders did the rope bridge Wednesday.

When they JROTC Raiders start competing again Saturday, the hope is the only fatigue they feel is the pants they’ll be wearing. Otherwise, it seems like the program that established itself as one of the best in the Southeast last fall is ready to dominate competitions again.

The Pioneer Battalion Jr. Reserve Office Training Corp will put its endurance to the test this Saturday in Clarkrange, the same place where the local Raiders became a sensation last year. The male team will be looking for a repeat championship, while the female team – competing in the mixed squad field – could turn heads as well. They’ve definitely put in the work to be ready.

“We were back at it on June 13,” said First Sergeant Tim Howard. “We’re at 41 members right now and they’re all working hard. We’ll be competing in seven rigorous competitions Saturday.”

Howard had his team flying around the obstacle course at Warren County High School Wednesday, the third straight day of two-plus hour workouts to prepare for the first of eight events the Raiders will take part in this fall. The team plans to use Thursday and Friday to rest and recuperate, though Howard noted the team traditionally works out at least four days a week.

It was non-stop action for all the Pioneer Battalion during practice. The team conquered the rope course, with both breezing through with blazing times, then started running many acres around the training area carrying tires and duffel bags stuffed with weights to simulate Saturday’s Cross Country Rescue (CCR) challenge.

The Pioneer Battalion will also be taking part in events like the obstacle course, hill carry, gauntlet, truck pull and tire stacker. They’ve cross-trained in all and Howard believes there’s one common theme running through all the challenges.

“It’s all big on team building. In the hill carry, everybody is tethered so you’re only as good as your slowest person,” said Howard. “Also, everything is built around listening. We do a lot of our work quietly because when you’re on the ropes, you have to hear that ‘Up’ and ‘Down’ call. Communication is big.”

Building up communication skills isn’t just for the competitions though. Howard routinely puts his team through interview training, resume building and other tasks to make sure the JROTC members are clear, concise and ready for anything when it comes to their future. His team leaders are the epitome of what the Raiders strive to be: respectful, direct and exuding confidence.

Command Sergeant Major (CSM) Victor McBride, a senior, has all the tools to lead and he feels the same about the rest of his squad. McBride is planning for Saturday to be the coming-out party for the Pioneer Battalion, especially in their favorite event.

“I feel we’re well-ranged in all events, but compared to other teams, I feel like our tire stacker is our overall best,” said McBride. “All of our events will be smoking other teams, but I feel like the tire stacker is more physicality and technicality to mess up on, but we’re not going to mess up on it.”

CSM Victor McBride, middle, gives instructions to his team during Wednesday's practice.

The tire stacker involves the full team carrying seven tires to poles and putting them on and taking them back off before moving to another pole. After going up and down two rows of poles, it’s a sprint to the finish line. The Raiders were going everywhere with tires Wednesday, including crawling through trenches while pushing 30-pound tires through the sand.

McBride was there every step of the way, working to lead the Pioneer Battalion to its best. It’s nothing new for him – ever since joined four years ago, he’s been building toward the CSM job and embracing every challenge with gusto.

“I think the Raider team helped me out overall – it built me from a tiny little freshman to the leader to the team. It’s really built my confidence and courage and helped me understand a lot more about other people,” said McBride, one of four seniors on this year’s team. “(At the start) I was recruited by a friend of mine who prompted me to join. I came in for the first few days and I was terrified. As the days went on, I found everything challenging and exciting.

“I thought, ‘That person is better than me? Not anymore.’ I found everything as a competition, and I still do.”

Battalion Commander Deisis Perez can relate. The senior leader of the Lady Pioneers Raider team had a similar journey from a scared youngster to finding a new family in fatigues.

“I started my freshman year. As a freshman, I was terrified and very intimidated. I built up more courage and bravery while trusting those around me much more. They helped me get to where I am – they pushed me and I’ve also been able to learn more than I ever thought I could learn,” said Perez. “(The Raider program) gives you more confidence. It gives you more courage. You step out of your comfort zone and you’re able to explore things about yourself that you didn’t know you were capable of. You also create a family.”

Perez, another confident leader who was doing a little bit of everything Wednesday, is fired up about getting her team on the rope bridge Saturday. “We got in 1:26 today, which was two seconds away from a tie with the male team. It’s definitely our strongest category,” said Perez.

Both Perez and McBride were thrilled to accept their positions this year, which bring with them the burden of leadership, but the satisfaction of a job well done when the Pioneer Battalion teams perform at a high level and, hopefully, bring home some trophies soon.

“It was scary, but I was proud of myself. I’ve been able to push myself. I’ve also gotten to where I am now because it and because of all these people who support me and have been with me,” said Perez about being named Battalion Commander. “It’s a lot of responsibility. I work with Victor and we keep the battalion running and give out orders to company commanders. We teach leadership while expanding our own knowledge as well.”

On his promotion to CSM, McBride said, “It felt like all my dreams came true. Ever since freshman year, I had worked so hard for it. I worked with my team to build the family bonds. After strengthening them and understanding my team and understanding myself and my capabilities, I was finally able to get the CSM job that I wanted and dreamed of since freshman year.”

Perez and McBride will be leading their teams through a grueling schedule of competitions, starting with Saturday’s Buffalo Battalion in Clarkrange. The local Raiders are also planning on attending events at Hickman County (Sept. 3), Fairview (Sept. 10), East Hamilton (Sept. 17), Soddy Daisy (Oct. 1) and the North Georgia Invitational (Oct. 15). Howard noted that it’ll be the first time his team attends the event in Georgia, which will be the final tune-up before the main event.

The JROTC Pioneer Battalions will close their season at the Raider Nationals, a gigantic event that brings the best teams into the country to one location to battle for the overall championship. Last year, the Raiders male team finished ninth in the country, while the female team placed second in the small unit division. The work all the teams are putting in now is to make those spots go up in three months.

Members of the JROTC Pioneer Battalion Raider team are McBride, David Hernandez, Aiden Betancourt, Cole Pendergraph, Kolby Keener, Anthony Thornton, Johnathan Bond, Johnathan Cox, Froylan Diaz, Alan Hernandez, Dylan Hutchings, Victor Mendoza, River Pescevic, Andrew Weitzel, Gabriel Crain, Seth Lane, Alex Niedoba, Braylon Torres, Aiden Young, Dylan Betancourt, Randy King and Kayleb Whaley.

The JROTC Lady Pioneer Battalion Raider team includes Perez, Hope Hasty, Jaylynn DeSantiago, Ana Serna, Elexia Byars, Loretta Fults, Kimberly Serna, Abigail Vanderpool, Maria Castillo, Jasmine DeLaCruz, Lillie Seymour, Allison Sweatman, Miranda Austin, Lakelyn Garza, Merideth Knight, Camilla Mendoza, Jackie Moran, Tatiana Radny and Aaniyah Holt.

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