What is a Military Drill Team?

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A military drill team is an armed or unarmed marching unit that performs routines based on military drill. All drill teams, no matter what size, perform or exhibit their routine. Hence, all teams are “exhibition drill teams”. In the military drill world, we have taken the term, “Exhibition Drill” (XD) and given it a more narrow definition (which is fine) along the lines of Precision Drill, Fancy Drill, Trick Drill, and Freestyle Drill, with Freestyle Drill being a more accurate term. So the American military’s service drill teams are in fact exhibition teams, but they are non-competitive (mainly for “show”) which brings in the idea of a “Ceremonial” sub-classification. See this Graph of Military Drill.

Military drill comes in three classifications:

  1. Regulation Drill (RD): Every movement is strictly guided by one of the three service drill and ceremonies manuals. Called Precision Drill in parts of the world.
  2. Exhibition Drill (XD): routines are limited by your imagination. Also called Fancy Drill in parts of the US. The term Freestyle Drill might be the best description.
    1. Ceremonial Exhibition Drill (CXD): is the subcategory of exhibition drill for teams like the ones attached to the US military ceremonial units in and around Washington DC. Their drill is ceremonial in nature because of the dignity, and honor, and professionalism of the organization.
    2. Scholastic or Independent Exhibition Drill (S/IXD): This subcategory applies to JROTC/ROTC drill teams and soloists and small teams who perform outside of high school/college. An example of this would be New Guard America.
    3. Mass Exhibition Drill (MXD): The manning for these teams can be upwards of 200 or even 500! These teams usually rely solely on intricate drill without rifle movement.
  3. Ceremonial (CD): Like RD, every movement is strictly guided by a manual specifically written for performance in ceremonial situations and can be quite different from RD. Ceremonial drill is used at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and all military and many first responder funerals.

Drill Team classifications

  1. All teams are exhibition teams whether they march RD or XD.
  2. Most JROTC and even foreign cadet program drill teams are competitive and can create very competitively aggressive performances that might not translate well in the Professional Ceremonial sphere.
  3. Mostly non-competitive teams are more ceremonial in nature which can be based on the unit to which attached. (This is not to say that this type of team could not compete, it’s just not their main function as sometimes seen in the design of their program.)

A Ceremonial Drill Team does not have competition as its goal. A competition may come and the team may compete, but the goal of the team is performance. You can see this in the writing of the marching and equipment books. The intent is not to write a routine for a competition, but for a public showing, entertainment. The service drill teams are there for a purpose and that purpose is not to create and march a competitive program, but to show the public what excellence, hard work, teamwork, etc., are like. It’s also used as a recruiting tool.

All of the United States military service branches have an official drill team that is part of their respective Presidential Honor Guard. The service academies have drill teams, as well as many university ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps) and high school JROTC (Junior ROTC) units. Additionally, many community-based organizations such as the Naval Sea Cadets, Young Marines, Civil Air Patrol and civilian-based organizations maintain military drill teams. Click here for more on cadet programs.

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