CBU Army ROTC earns a top spot at national drill competition

Ian Neeley, left, Claire Worthington, Berit Miller and Natalie Rivas made up the Pershing Rifle drill team. Jessi Dreschler, front, was their mentor.

Riverside, Calif. (March 28, 2024) – Jessi Dreschler, civil engineering senior at California Baptist University, was the coach and mentor for the members of the CBU ROTC color guard drill team. But she was more than that. She was their mirror.

“If they weren’t in sync, I’d be like, ‘OK, start over. Start over. Start over. Start over,’” Dreschler said.

“There's a lot of repetition. Because we can't look at ourselves, we're not practicing in front of a mirror,” said Natalie Rivas, a political science sophomore. “Jessi is looking at us and saying, ‘OK, you two are out of sync. You need to fix this,’ and so we have to start over.”

For the team, all that repetition paid off. They placed second at the John J. Pershing Memorial Drill Competition held on March 15 in Knoxville, Tennessee. Pershing Rifles is an ROTC related national organization that was started by Lt. John J. Pershing in 1894 when he was the professor of military science at the University of Nebraska.

Cadets Rivas, Ian Neeley, Berit Miller and Claire Worthington made up the team. At the competition, their 7-minute routine included Worthington calling out 40 commands. All the marching, steps, maneuvers had to be in sync.

Right before they went on, Worthington, a mechanical engineering senior, kept telling herself not to mess anything up.

“We were all kind of stressed, but I think we got really grounded when we were able to pray right before the competition and then we just did it, and it was amazing. We did really well in our competition,” she said.

CBU was the only team from the West Coast among the 10 teams that competed.

While about 10 cadets practiced the routine in the fall, come January, the team of four was chosen. The cadets started practicing at least two hours a week, including a 6 a.m. practice.

Dreschler, who plans to go into the Reserves, said she learned a lot about mentorship and discipline through the experience.

“We put in several hours last year and didn't place and that was pretty discouraging,” she said. “This year we're like ‘We're going to get more disciplined, we're going to work harder, we're going to push ourselves more’ and it paid off.”

Then there was the individual knockout competition. In this, 175 cadets competed individually, following commands precisely. If a cadet did the wrong command or was not precise, they were out.

“It's kind of like ‘Simon says,’ but for the Army,” Rivas said.

Miller was “in the zone.” She didn’t realize the competition was down to five cadets until they announced it. And she was one of them. She ended in second place.

“It was really nice getting second place, showing and proving like you can be from a small school and still be up there with all the big names,” said Miller, a kinesiology sophomore.

Neeley, a history sophomore, grew up on military bases, knowing he wanted to be in the military, too. He appreciates the ROTC experience at CBU.

“We try and set ourselves apart at the battalion level because we're a smaller company, and a faith-based company and just everything that we do, we try and give glory to God,” Neeley said.

Miller wants to become an occupational therapist to help treat veterans.

“Our company definitely feels like a small family. We support each other,” Miller said. “When we came back with the trophy everyone in our company was so excited and cheering us on.”

Worthington did not know what ROTC was until she was looking for college scholarships.

“Now it's an amazing part of my life that has really pushed me to grow in a lot of areas, including communication, and the softer skills and especially leadership,” she said.

For Rivas, it was her first year in ROTC, but she jumped into the various activities offered. She wants to work in government and help combat human trafficking. Her dad, who is in the Army, suggested ROTC, saying the military could open doors. There are many things she appreciates about the program.

“It is faith-based. We are able to have conversations of our faith and what it is like to live that out in the Army,” Rivas said. “I enjoy the camaraderie of it but also the opportunities that can come out of all of this and being a part of something bigger than just yourself.”

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