FORT WALTON BEACH — A half-century of tradition was marked with military precision Friday morning as the 200-strong Air Force Junior ROTC unit at Choctawhatchee High School hosted its annual Pass In Review.
The cadet-led event, complete with flag-raising, marching, an open-ranks inspection, drill formations and a rifle team demonstration, also serves as a change-of-command ceremony.
“It’s a little nerve-wracking, but it’s exciting,” Cadet Col. Ryan Davis, the outgoing corps commander, said as cadets began to assemble at the school’s stadium. As commander, Davis had primary responsibility for preparing the cadets for the Pass In Review.
A senior who will attend the University of West Florida on an Air Force ROTC scholarship, Davis took a monent Friday to reflect on his command of Choctaw’s contingent.
“It’s been a good run,” he said, “but I’m glad to pass the torch on.”
The torch was passed Friday to Cadet Lt. Col. Diamon Gipson, a junior now in her second year of Junior ROTC. Like her predecessors, she earned the post on the basis of what is essentially a daily evaluation of her performance, attitude and other leadership qualities.
“It’s really (about) helping out on the smaller things,” she said.
Gipson said she didn’t actively seek command of Choctaw’s Junior ROTC unit, but she’s eager to take on the challenge.
“It’s a lot, but I’m really excited to see where it goes,” she said.
Gipson plans to attend college, although where she goes will depend on where her military father will be stationed in the next couple years.
Wherever she ends up, Gipson said she will pursue her dream of becoming an Air Froce nurse.
For now, she’ll face the challenge of continuing Choctaw Junior ROTC’s record of community service. During this school year, the corps collectively gave 3,000 hours of community service by participating in charity walks, reading to young people and helping clean up the community. In all, the corps has participated in 90 events this year, including their traditional role of leading the Fort Walton Beach Christmas Parade.
In recognition of the 50th year of Junor ROTC at Choctaw, the corps presented Principal Lee Hale with an American flag.
“Fifty years of excellence has been the mantra this year,” Hale told the crowd of parents and dignitaries at Friday’s Pass In Review. Among the visitors were Okaloosa County Judge T. Patt Maney, a wounded warrior, and Nancy Carden, known to the cadets as “Mother Nancy.” Representatives of U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz’s office and the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office also attended.
Hale called the cadets “very, very selfless leaders” and said they are “a robust representation of what Choctawhatchee High School stands for.”
“Congratulations on 50 years of excellence,” Hale told the cadets, “and here’s to 50 more.”
While the overall mood of Pass In Review was celebratory, the day also had serious purposes. Among the first events was an open-ranks inspection, in which cadets were evaluated by members of the Eglin Air Force Base and Hurlburt Field honor guards. Honor guard members evaluated each cadet on their uniforms, their military bearing and their personal grooming.
“I thought they did outstanding,” said Senior Master Sgt. Cornell Davis of the Hurlburt Field Munitions Flight, one of the evaluators. “They get better each year.”
Davis, whose previous work as an Air Force recruiter sent him to Air Force Junior ROTC units around the state, pronounced the Choctaw corps among the best he’s ever seen.
Retired Air Force Maj. Scott Bates, who heads Choctaw’s Junior ROTC, also praised the corps.
“It’s truly exciting to get up every day and come to work,” he said. “In fact, I don’t even regard it as work.”
In addition to Friday’s change of command, a number of cadets earned promotions. Lesly Rincon, a junior who served this year as a captain and headed the corps’ public affairs efforts, was promoted to major and will serve as the corps’ executive officer. As she has developed her leadership skills, Rincon’s service in the corps has taught her another valuable lesson.
“You never realy stop learning,” she said.