Professional Judges for the Military Drill World- NOW!

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The military drill world needs trained, certified professional judges!

I’ve been a trained professional visual judge since the late 1980s and have been judging the pageantry arts ever since. My goal is to educate others to drill and judge better. (See Certification)

We need to understand that the pageantry arts (marching band, indoor percussion, winter guard, step teams, drill teams and solos, etc.) are judged using basically the same visual caption system. There is one judge concentrating on only one caption. Initially, some have found this insulting with the following thinking: ‘I retired after 150 years in the Army and I’ve been teaching JROTC for 85 years. You mean to tell me I am unable to watch everything during a performance?’ My answer to them is a respectful, “Yes!” This system is new to the military drill world, and I understand that some people do not like change, others handle change very well. I’m not looking to club anyone over the head with this adjudication system, however this is progress in the right direction: we want educated Drillers, better performances and we definitely want better judging. This adjudication system offers all three; once Drillers, instructors and judges study this system and begin using it on a routine basis, the playing field will be leveled and raised considerably for everyone!

The military does not train anyone to judge anything. Sure, Training Instructors and Drill Instructors can evaluate certain aspects of training (Go/No Go), but that’s as far as it goes. This system will teach you exactly what you need to know when creating, performing and/or judging a performance.

Judging the whole

  • Overall Effect
  • Composition Analysis

Judging the individuals

  • Equipment (if any)
  • Movement (marching and body movement)

If performed (not recorded) music is involved you add

  • Music Effect
  • Percussion
  • Brass/Woodwind

There is also a Timing and Penalties Judge, but this is not a graded caption. An important note: The Adjudication Manual is for everyone, not just a select few judges.

The Captions

There is no other way to properly adjudicate a visual activity Neither is there a “quicker” or “easier” way to judge. It just doesn’t exist. Anything worth having involves work. One cannot step into a judging position without training. Period. Ask professional judges for any kind of activity (cars, singing, ice skating, the list is endless) and you will here them agree to that statement.

Overall Effect

How effective is the routine? What kind of effects were in the routine? What is the pacing like? Did the Driller pay attention to details? Was there creativity? What were the emotions generated by the routine? How was the Driller’s or team’s communication?

Composition Analysis

This caption can be difficult to judge since most everyone is very familiar with the immediate reaction to what is happening in front of them. Composition Analysis has nothing to do with reaction and analyzing the ‘whys’ of the performance. Construction of movement/marching choreography, staging, design, sequencing, orientation and style, etc. are just a few of the items that Composition Analysis judge watches.


Why isn’t this caption entitled, “rifle” or “weapon”? Because this caption pertains to anything I drillers can carry as stated in the subheading above. Phrase length, control, creativity, achievement and accuracy, etc. are all part of this caption.


This caption is like the equipment caption in that the judge looks at the same type of things, however, the judge is looking at the body and its movement and does not consider any piece of equipment. Body orientation and orientation in the drill area, arms, legs, head, hands and feet, etc. are all under scrutiny in this caption.

Judging the “What” and the “How”

The two subcaptions of each caption:

The ‘What’ refers to what is being performed. The ‘How’ refers to how it is being performed. When judging a performance there has to be some kind of ‘what’ in order to have ‘how.’ Here is an example of a poor routine: a Driller performs a routine where he looks like he’s thinking about the next move and routine seems disjointed. He also has quite a bit of repetition and does not move around the drill area very well or very much. In this example there is something to be judged; there is a ‘what,’ however, this ‘what,’ leaves very little room for excellence or, what we are calling the ‘how.’ You cannot have much ‘how’ without the ‘what.’

The Arguments

‘You mean to tell me that NCOs cannot judge more than one thing at a time?’ Yes. Unless you are settling for mediocrity. No one can watch and take in every aspect of a performance all at once. I’m telling you that no matter what your experience, in order to be a thorough judge, you must be trained to be a through judge. No one in the military is given any kind of training on judging in the context of what we are talking about. It does not matter that you’ve been on the honor guard or have been a drill/training instructor or even a JROTC instructor for 150 years combined. What matters is the knowledge of how to assign a number to the performance that is going on in front of you; how to explain what needs improvement* and how to explain what went right and why.

*This is especially important with Exhibition Drill (XD)! Marking a team down for “breaking Attention” is NOT meaningful feedback! XD, is NOT RD that has been “exhibitionized.” Not every team is going to perform the same routine as the USMC Silent Drill Team. If your thinking is along these lines, then you are doing a disservice to the teams/Drillers you are judging; your paradigm is most likely in recruit-type training, which is fine with recruits, but not at a competition.

‘Yeah, but we’re going to try something simpler.’ or ‘We’re beta-testing this simpler system.’

Right. In this case and every case like it, simple does not equal thorough or educated. Use the whole alphabet for your tests, shortcuts do not work. Drillers work hard to perfect their routines. Shouldn’t the judges be trained professionals?

‘This competition has been judged like this for 30+ years!’

You’ve been consistent! What’s been the basis of your judging? Is there no room for improvement? Are you not open to a system that has been created and vetted in other pageantry arts for decades and has now been adapted for the military drill world?

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