In 1976 and 1977, the Massachusetts Wing Drill Team was the Northeast Region Cadet Competition Champion under the command of Paul D. Eldridge Jr. from the Quincy Composite Squadron. The team placed 4th in the National Cadet Competition in 1976 and 3rd in 1977. Unfortunately, after the two unsuccessful attempts for the title of National Champion, the team fell into a period of "down time" . Within the next decade, the Massachusetts Wing Drill Team would not place better than 2nd in the Northeast Region Cadet Competition. After their dejection at the National Cadet Competition in 1976 and 1977, the team had no real ambition or drive. Year after year they would go to the region competition and concede victories to New York's Bronx Group Drill Team, who would end up being five time National Champions. This New York team was unparelled in the world of cadet competition. They started the Northeast Region's reign of the National Cadet Competition.
But like all other good things, the reign came to an end. It was snapped in 1989 by a team known as the New Jersey Dragon Drill Team. They did what no one could do. They finally broke through the steel wall that New York had set up. New Jersey ended up continuing the dominance of the Northeast at the National Cadet Competition. They ended up being six time National Champions and had a three year NCC winning streak that lasted from 1992 to 1994. But their reign, like New York's, would soon come to an end.
At the time when the Northeast Region Cadet Competition was dominated by the Dragons, one Massachusetts Wing cadet stepped up to face the challenge. Cadet Captain Barry Dubois, hailing from the Essex County Composite Squadron, sought to find Massachusetts Wing's finest. The majority of the 1994 team came from his unit, but there were cadets from all over the state. The team did not even have enough cadets until two months before the 1994 Region Cadet Competition. In the end however, c/CAPT Dubois had formed a stellar team that would refuse to be defeated. Unfortunately, the team was still not good enough, as they only placed second that year. However, c/CAPT Dubois was hailed as the Competition's best team commander and the female fleetfoot went to Katie Schroth, which were small, but significant victories.
The team learned many things from their
defeat in 1994. One of the greatest
lessons learned was the need for an
identity, one that
would seperate themselves from the other region teams. That is how the Massachusetts Wing Drill Team came to be known as the Lightning Drill Team. The lightning symbolizes the speed at which the team showed, coming on to the Northeast Region Cadet Competition scene and the awe inspiring power of the Massachusetts Wing Drill Team. With this new name, Massachusetts now had an identity that allowed the team to stand head and shoulders above the rest.
One individual on the 1994 team that made perhaps some of the greatest advancements for the drill team was c/CAPT Jason Davidson. Davidson studied and researched the New York and New Jersey teams and began learning from them. He then instructed the team on the things that had made them champions. Because of him, Lightning made leaps and bounds in the way they trained and competed. Armed with this newfound knowledge, c/CAPT Davidson led the 1995 Lightning Drill Team to Competition the next year. The team felt confident that they could make this the year to defeat New Jersey, especially since they had 12 returning members, joined by c/MSGT Jack Goguen, c/FO David Bindoo, c/TSGT James Sullivan and c/CAPT Jon Mullaly.
At the 1995 Northeast Region Cadet Competition, the New York Drill Team tried to make a comeback but fell to New Jersey AND Massachusetts. Massachusetts had only beaten them by 1 point, but that 1 point was all they needed. The competition went well for the team and they thought that they had finally defeated New Jersey, but that was not to be . . . . . yet. The team placed second in almost everything, placing third in Volleyball ( beaten by NJ and NY ), but FIRST in Innovative Drill ! Overall, the team placed 2nd that year with two fleetfoots ( Dan Taylor and Katie Schroth ) and the team spirit award, but now they had even more motivation to train even harder for the next competition year.
The tide was set, and c/COL Katie Schroth was chosen to lead the 1996 Lightning Drill Team into battle. This year was the year. The team trained and worked harder than any other in its history. Drill team was the only thing on everyone's mind, day in and day out. Each team member ate, drank and slept Lightning. The '96 team had 14 returning members, joined by newcomers c/SSGT Dave Tyler and c/1LT Tin Nguyen.
Upon arriving at the 1996 NER Cadet Competition, the team knew that this was the last year many would be competing and so they needed to win it. The goal of the team was to dethrone 5 time National Champions New Jersey and to become the 4th NER drill team program to win the NCC. Entering the competition, the team made flawless perfomances in the drill portion. Entering the panel bowl, the team was sure it would be able to defeat the other teams and take 1st, which they DID! The team narrowly defeated New Jersey by 1 question. But that's all it took. Key members in this victory were c/1LT Dan Taylor, c/CAPT Jason Davidson, c/MSGT Jason Chapman, and c/COL Katie Schroth. Next was the mile...
The next morning, the team was mentally and physically prepared for the mile run. They tore up the course, setting a team average of 5:25 . After their victorious run, the team fell to New Jersey in volleyball once again. But the competition was finally over. Now all that remained was the awards ceremony. The team was highly apprehensive at first, but 1st place after 1st place, the team knew they had finally done it. They had DEFEATED the Dragons, they were going to National for the first time since 1976!
When National came around two months later, the team was prepared to tackle
any of the obstacles that stood in the way. Unfortunately, things did not
go as planned. Though the team was perhaps the best Massachusetts has ever
fielded, it was still too unexperienced on the national level, as their
primary goal for the team's formative years was to defeat New Jersey on
the region level. The team did not practice to win National but to win
Regions, which was it's downfall. Placing 4th consistently in the drill
events, 5th in the panel quiz, and 7th in the Volleyball was too much.
Coming out of the NCC with a disappointing 4th place finish and only three
awards (Male/Female Fleetfoots and 1st place mile run), the team entered
another of it's down times. The team
learned from the experience though, and was determined to go back to Alabama the next year.
At this time c/LT COL Jon Mullaly was selected to be the team's newest
commander, but what he had to face for the new year, was unlike anything
anyone expected. All ready to go back down to National, no one expected
the unexpected. Half of the 1996 Lightning Drill Team left, going
either to college or the military. The team was left with only 8 returning
members and a handful of fresh cadets with absolutely no knowledge of the
Cadet Competition or Drill Team. But with the assistance of Cadet Mullaly
and senior advisor Captain Mark Schroth, the group of cadets that came
to the practices became a team. They did not become one easily, as the
early months were plagued with problems. At first there were not enough
cadets, then, not every was as dedicated to the
team as they should have been. But in the end, things turned out. Though this new team was unexperienced, they were ready to go against New Jersey in the 1997 Region Competition.
In the competition, the MAWG Drill Team performed better than anyone had
expected, but once again, their performance was not good enough as they
fell to a 2nd place finish with only one 1st place trophy in the
In-Ranks Inspection. The team suffered second place finishes in the rest
of the events with an embarrasing 4th place finish in the panel quiz, an
event they had won the year before. The team was not dissapointed however,
only encouraged to train harder for the next year. That year, Cadet Mullaly
and the newly appointed 1998 MAWG Drill Team commander c/LT COL James
Sullivan went down to the National Cadet Competition in order to learn
from it, and learn they did. They came back with even more knowledge about
the NCC than before. New Jersey
ended up winning the NCC that year and earning the title of National Champions once again. The team used that to their advantage however, studying how and what they did to win. The 1998 team would be the most prepared and knowledgable team in the history of the Lightning Drill Team.
Going into the 1998 Region Cadet Competition, the Team felt confident about their skills and knew they would bring home the Championship. This team was highly motivated and did the job they came to do. The team dominated all areas of the competition, taking all firsts except in Standard (2nd) and Physical Fitness (3rd). This was also the first time in history that the MAWG team took a first in volleyball, an event previously dominated by New Jersey. The Panel Quiz was no challenge as key performances were turned in by c/LT COL Mickey Condon, c/LT COL James Sullivan, c/COL Tin Nguyen, and c/MSGT Pete Amaral. At the final awards ceremony, there was excitement in the air as the team got first after first. Then it was over, the team was once again Northeast Region Cadet Competition Champions! They would be going back down to Alabama in December to vie for the National Championship.
During the period between the Region Competition and National, the team worked harder than ever. They worked towards perfecting every aspect of the Competition. They ran, they drilled, they studied and played volleyball like they never have. This would be the most prepared team that Massachusetts would ever send into competition. The standards were set, and all had to meet them.
Time for the 1998 National Cadet Competition rolled around and their was an air of excitement. While competing, the team felt as if they had turned in a sub-par performance in the innovative drill, but felt that their standard was one of the best. The Panel Quiz went extremely well as they won round after round, eventually tieing for 2nd place. In this eventuality, there was a tie breaker between the Northeast Region and the Great Lakes Region. The Panel Quiz team selected composed of the 3 best on the team, c/2dLT Pete Amaral, c/LTCOL James Sullivan and c/COL Tin Nguyen. This team was not successful howeverand the team fell to 3rd place in this event. The next day, the mile run turned in some outstanding and surprising results. Coming in first for the team andeventually winning the National Male Fleetfoot was c/SrAMN Ryan Murphy. Volleyball went well, but was still not good enough as the team only turned in a 4th place finish.
At the banquet, the team felt antsy and knew that they still had work to do after this season. The final results were disappointing but at the same time surprising. Overall, the team tied for 3rd place with the Southeast Region, but fell to 4th on the inspection tie breaker. But victories had were in the 1st Place Mile, 2nd Place Written Exam (which was unheard of for a Massachusetts Team) and a Male Fleetfoot. Determined to win that National Championship once and for all, the team anticipated the next drill team year.
The 1999 year would be a hard year to overcome and at the helm once again was c/LT COL Sullivan. Losing some of its members to the military andcollege, it was thought that finding good replacements for them would be close to impossible. With only a core of 10 or so members at the beginning of the summer, it was thought that a team would not be put together in time to win. But with strong recruiting efforts by the members of the team, the number slowly increased so that by Region there was a total of 16 competing members and 5 support staff members. Practices with a full team began in early September, the latest practices had ever begun, but with 11 returning members from the previous year, things went smoothly. By Region, the team was more than ready.
The 1999 team entered the NER Competition like a Tidal Wave, sweeping the competition away. The first day progressed smoothly, with the team performing well in drill, written testing and panel quiz. Key perfomances this year in the panel quiz were turned in by c/CAPT Pete Amaral, c/MSGT Ryan Murphy, c/CAPT Brian Wayland, and c/COL Tin Nguyen. The next day also went well as the team ran and played volleyball extremely well. By the time the Awards Ceremony came about, the team felt already, that they had achieved victory. The team won, SWEEPING, taking firsts in all 7 events, something unheard of for the Massachusetts Wing. This team far exceed the performance of last year's team and would be the most prepared team to enter into the National Cadet Competion for 1999.
Right off the bat, there were problems however. Some team members had to leave the team for various reasons, but luckily, past members of the team were recruited to fill in the missing voids, making the team even stronger than it previously was. Changes to the practicing regimen were made in order to prepare everyone to compete on a National Championship level. It was to be ensured that everyone knew what was to be expected at the NCC. The team members were fully briefed on everything and practices were more intense than ever before in the team's 6 year history. The goal was to make everyone on the team equal in strengths. Everyone shared the same goal...to win the National Cadet Competition.
A new factor was added to the Drill Team program, that of cadet staff members. Alongside the team commander, there would now be 3 element leaders. These 3 element leaders were considered to be among the best on the team and the most experienced. The 3 chosen were c/CAPT Peter Amaral, c/LT COL Mickey Condon, and c/COL Tin Nguyen. This change in the program increased the efficiency in which training was conducted and helped to improve the quality of the team. This was not the only major change however. Weeks prior to the 1999 NCC, the team received training help from members of the old New York Wing Bronx Group Drill Team. These men, Maj. Jesus Figueroa, USAF and Maj. Ed Rabassa, CAP, were key in the process of preparing the team for National. What they had to teach was encompassed in 3 weekends of hard practice. The team was now ready to take on Nationals.
Nationals rolled around and it was time to strut our stuff. The written test was first and that went off without a hitch as the team felt it went very well. The drill events went very well the next day and the other teams knew that they were in for a fight. Later that afternoon Lightning once again defended its National mile championship as they ran a 5:17 average led by 2 time Fleetfoot c/2dLT Ryan Murphy who ran a 4:39. On a high from their first guaranteed first place the team entered the panel quiz with high hopes of capturing another first. That was not to be that night however as the team suffered a loss to Southwest Region in the last round, falling to a record of 6 - 1, taking only 2nd. That did not decrease morale however, as it is the best showing NER has made in that event in the past 6 years. Volleyball was held the next day. Off to a good start, the team was 2 - 0 heading into their match with Southeast Region, the defending Volleyball champions. The game carried on roughly, but by the time the team regrouped, it was too late. They went on to win the next 2, but fell to Great Lakes Region due to poor play. The last game was against Southwest and would decide whether the team would tie for 2nd place or take 3rd. They won. It was the most exhilirating and outstanding game the team had played yet. The team was poised, controlled and confident. They won 12 - 9. The competition was over! The team had ended it on a good note...and they looked forward to the banquet.
Time for the banquet came and everyone was nervous. Would this be the year? The awards started and the team won standard drill! This was the first time this NER team had won a drill event at National! But the team took a disappointing 3rd in innovative. The other events went as planned. 2nds in Volleyball, Panel Quiz and another 1st in the mile. The written test was announced...and it was over. The team had placed 3rd in the test. Not good enough to win it. Overall, Lightning placed 3rd because of a stunning and shocking 5th place in inspection. This year's dream was dashed...but what does not kill us...only makes us stronger...
With the new rules concerning the cadet competition, the NER competition was moved to May and NCC to June at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. Despite heavy losses from last year's team, the new team commander, c/LTCOL Peter Amaral managed to scrape together a young and highly inexperienced team. Working with a new team with little senior cadet leadership, they trained hard, getting ready for the Region Competition. The inexperience and youth of the team would be a huge factor in the way the team would compete this year, but the training regimen established was strong, speeding along the growth of the rookies.
Going into Region, no one knew what to expect. Competing this year were New Hampshire and a new New York team. The first day went well, drilling the competition into the ground. Little mistakes were made in all of the drill but the team still managed to perform the best innovative routine they had yet to date. Though the new team was inexperienced, they drilled with the confidence of the experienced as if they owned the drill floor, true professionals. Next was the panel quiz. The team was rusty. They were slow on the buzzers and answers, and some of the most basic concepts eluded them, but they still managed to defeat both teams by over 200 points. They needed heavy work before returning to the forefront for National.
The next day held more domination in the mile and volleyball. Overall, the team competed well, though still not up to par to previous teams. The youth, inexperience and undeveloped athletic prowess of the team showed itself, but where there is a weakness, is a dormant strength. c/MAJ Jennifer Walsh earned her first Fleet Foot, a personal goal she had set for herself. The awards ceremony only affirmed what everyone had thought all along, the Lightning Drill Team reigned supreme again. The team swept all 7 first places including garnering another Highest Written Exam Score by c/LTCOL Peter Amaral and a Female Fleetfoot.
Armed with the knowledge of what they needed to do, this would be NER's year...to regain the National Title, number 13...and the first for Massachusetts.
With the Region Competition over with, the team now needed to focus on the NCC. Coming back to assist the team as a cadet training instructor was c/COL Tin Nguyen. His added experience and knowledge would prove a valuable asset in the team's preparation.
The innovative drill routine was revamped and modified from it's original form, adding more variability and added showmanship. An intense concentration was given the events that the team knew they could control, the panel quiz, written exam, the mile, and volleyball. The 2 practices before competition the aid of LtCol Rabassa and Maj Figueroa was once again enlisted. The assistance of these 2 knowledgeable experts, c/COL Nguyen and the determination of the team and staff made the preparations for the NCC final. Though the team was young and inexperienced, they were ready.
A few days before leaving for competition, Cadet Amaral learned he passed the Spaatz, bringing an air of good luck on the team and their upcoming challenge. The time for the competition rolled around and the team found themselves at the Air Force Academy ready to compete. The mile run was the first event. This was one event that the team was unsure of. The altitude of the academy combined with various injuries gave the team doubt on their ability to perform. This team not being the fastest team ever fielded by Massachusetts, they were still confident the placed top 2 at the conclusion of the event. The next day brought the drill and knowledge portions. All the drill events went smoothly, the team garnering many good comments from the Honor Guard judges. The written exam was next and it was agreed upon afterwards that the exam was of no respectable challenge. Later in the evening, panel quiz went off without a hitch as the team was led by c/COL Amaral, c/COL Condon, c/CAPT Casey, and c/MAJ Schellhammer to a first place finish! With the conclusion of panel quiz, the team felt very confident and excited for the remaining event...volleyball.
The next morning volleyball started early as they had a full day of competition. Competing well, the team suffered only one loss to the Middle East Region, touted as being comparable to the game against the Southwest Region at the previous NCC. They placed second in 1999, and they placed 2nd again in 2001. The competition was finally over. Now all that came was the banquet and awards...would this be the year?
That evening, all doubts were washed away. Event after event, the NER team garnered the awards. They placed 1st or 2nd in every event. It was done...the Massachusetts Wing Lightning Drill reigned supreme as the National Cadet Competition Champions! This happened in the 7th year of the team's existence...lucky number 7. A goal that was set so many years ago, has finally been met. With the winning of this NCC, the Northeast Region garners its 13th Championship...the most out of any region. This also marks the 4th program to win the NCC from the NER...the Massachusetts Wing Lightning Drill Team following after the New York Wing Bronx Group Drill Team, the New York Wing Long Island Group Drill Team and the New Jersey Wing Dragon Drill Team.
The Lightning Drill Team...carrying on the Northeast Region tradition of