Cadet-Run Honor Guard Teaches Leadership and Responsibility

PROVO, Utah – Jan 18, 2019 – Air Force ROTC cadets typically take on additional responsibility compared to traditional college students, and cadets in BYU Marriott’s Air Force ROTC program are no different. From getting up early for training to attending extra classes, cadets don’t have much free time on their hands. However, every semester approximately forty BYU Marriott cadets also elect to join the newly organized honor guard and use what extra time they do have to set a high standard for other students and compete around the country.

The honor guard is comprised of two units: the color guard, which focuses on precision and presents the colors, and the drill team, which marches and spins rifles. Previously the two were separate, but this year Captain Colin Slade, faculty advisor for the program’s honor guard, combined the two because that’s how they function on active duty. “The ROTC program is going to align itself more closely with the way things are actually done in the Air Force,” Slade says. “It has already been a huge help to the cadets because bringing them together is increasing their ability to perform and support each other.”

The new team has already seen success in recent competitions. The first time the teams competed together as a single honor guard was at a competition at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Arizona, on 3 November 2018. BYU took first place in color guard and second in drill. One of the main factors in a competition is precision. From uniforms to timing to the sounds the rifles make, judges evaluate every aspect of a team’s presentation as well as its performance. 

The levels of precision and professionalism demonstrated by BYU’s honor guard don’t happen easily—they require a lot of patience. The cadets practice for an average of eight hours a week, often early in the morning. Ryan Firth, a junior from St. Louis studying computer science and the honor guard commander, says rifle spinning may look effortless, but it’s common for cadets to sustain injuries and bruises as they learn. “The M-1 rifles the guard uses date back to World War I, and while the weapons are well balanced, they still weigh nine and a half pounds.” Firth says. “My first week on the drill team left me looking like I’d been in a fight.” 

In addition to competing around the country, the cadets often represent former members of the military at Veterans and Memorial Day services around Utah and take these responsibilities seriously. “Representing former members of the military in a positive way is important to us,” Firth says. “People expect us to demonstrate the precision and proficiency they’ve seen from the Air Force.” 

Though Slade is the advisor, the honor guard is completely student run. Slade presents lectures regularly to help the cadets grasp the history and importance of the guard but leaves most of the logistics up to Firth, who organizes everything from events to training to scheduling. “Everything that we do in ROTC is geared toward preparing cadets for life on active duty as an officer,” Slade says. “We want to help them develop their leadership skills, professionalism, and ability to speak with confidence, as well as their ability to perform under pressure.”

While constant high expectations can be daunting for some, Firth sees this as a positive factor. “We put cadets under a lot of positive pressure to perform. These experiences encourage them to reach a higher standard,” Firth says. “The honor guard is a good opportunity to work together as a team and to learn how to manage stressful environments.”

Though expectations are high, BYU Marriott’s Air Force ROTC cadets have seen positive results, both from their competition efforts and in community events. “The discipline they develop in the honor guard permeates everything they do and changes them on a personal and individual level.” Slade says.

ROTC Air Force Honor Guard stands in formation with BYU Mascot Cosmo the Cougar
BYU's ROTC Air Force Honor Guard stands in formation with Cosmo the Cougar.

Media Contact: Chad Little (801) 422-1512
Writer: Katie Harris