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How to Judge Military Drill and Ceremonies

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I got involved in military marching and marching band in 1979 in high school and that continued through my college days at New Mexico Military Institute. After joining the USAF in 1985, I continued to march with a drum and bugle corps in England (I was stationed at RAF Upper Heyford), and began my journey into teaching and judging and began writing drill for my musical ensemble.

In 1989, I was stationed at Davis-Monthan AFB in Tucson, AZ. I wrote drill for three local high school bands, taught the visual aspects of the performances, and joined my first honor guard. I wrote drill and performed with the drill team. I even created the D-M Aerospace and Arizona Days Drill Meet hosted by the Base Honor Guard on base, sponsored by the Wing Commander, with my first attempt at an adjudication system. This is where I earned my moniker, DrillMaster.

Brunssum, Netherlands was my next duty station in 1993, where I wrote drill for an AFJROTC drill team, a local civilian drum and bugle corps, an indoor color (winter) guard, and continued judging. Holland’s drum corps and winterguard communities needed trained judges and I embarked on the first professional training session with my Dutch adjudication colleagues. It was intense weekends of long hours learning theory and practical application for musical and dance-oriented ensembles taught by Winter Guard International (WGI, George Oliviero and colleague), and I graduated the course with a certification in General Effect Visual.

In 2005, I retired from the AF, followed my wife to Travis AFB in California’s Bay Area, joined the Pacific Coaches Judges Association, and was mentored by some of the best judges I’ve worked with. I learned more with their guidance about adjudication, numbers management (a critical skill), and tabulation (collating all the judges’ scores and coming up with a final score). I created the World Drill Association with the goal of competition management, rules, and initial and continued training for judges.

The Difficult Work is Accomplished

I know this is a bold statement. I did the work for the benefit of the activity. My goal has always been the betterment of anything in which I’m involved.

From 2009 to 2011, we were stationed at Spangdahlem AB, Germany. Here, I had the opportunity to march with the BHG as a retiree and revisit my judging roots in Holland with more training and judging. It is here that I began to write and publish books on military marching. Two of my books are adaptations with permission of the WGI Adjudication Manual, The World Drill Association Adjudication Manual, and papers by George Oliviero on judging, Continuing Education for the WDA Visual Adjudicator.

Along with the books, I have a complete set of judge scoresheets that cover the requirements for regulation drill sequences, exhibition drill, and even ceremonial drill. See the Resources page and click on the JROTC drop-down menu to see the updated scoresheets that I offer free of charge. Everything is copyrighted (and not just by me), which means you cannot alter anything in the system, but you can use everything I have worked so hard to create over the years.

The adjudication system I developed works on a logical progression of simple to difficult in two areas, the What and the How. What is being performed and how is it being performed. The scale on which the score are placed is similar to a letter grade system in school and the score ranges on the sheet are based on descriptive words used to match up with the statements the judge is specifically looking for in the routine to guide the judge.

Nothing else out there comes close to this.


I know, there are scoresheets out there that have taken the concepts I have worked on and tried to implement them, but they still don’t work as well as they should. Because those who took these ideas gained from my scoresheets don’t understand the WHY behind the ideas. They never asked if I would explain and help educate them on proper adjudication. I would. Their loss.

Also, you’re supposed to be able to glance at your sheet to get an idea of where the score is going with the term references, not burry your head because your filling out number after number in a micro scoring effort. Having the team halt every few seconds is not the solution. Take in the whole performance, not just each move for all regulation and exhibition drill.

Are you with a Base Honor Guard (regardless of service)? Use this tool:

“We need a simpler system”

I’ve heard this twice and it just baffles me that thinking like this even exists. Simpler does not equal better. It equals less adequate.

Let me introduce you to a simple concept:

Your drill team or color guard has worked before and after school, initially training, practicing, marching the same sequences over and over, perfecting every little detail as best you can, and you head off to a drill meet.

You team (or solo) + months of hard work

You arrive at the drill meet (every single competition currently around the world) and you have volunteer or “voluntold” (I have NOTHING against our volunteer judges) who showed up early, were handed a clipboard and told to go to whatever drill area. That’s it.

You team (or solo) + months of hard work + untrained judges = a fair and logical system?

Judges don’t have to to work a bit to gain competence in judging an activity that cadets put months and even years to perfect? Does this add up? Of course it doesn’t.

The WDA Adjudication System, based on decades of development by others I highly respect in pageantry arts and then my own years of work to bring that work through the “military filter”, is not that difficult. It just take time to get used to like anything else that is new.

“Training!? We don’t need no stinkin’ training!”

Apparently, the only qualification one needs to judge a drill meet is to graduate Basic Training or Boot Camp. That’s it! You are now, magically, an expert and can discern not only what is going on on the drill area, but you can also see why its happening and how effective it is or isn’t and then also be able to suggest corrective action. Nothing is further from the truth! Judges need training and I’m not talking about a video presentation the day before and definitely not a briefing the morning of. See my concept above.

Who Can Be a Judge?

Those who are Active Duty, Reserve, and National Guard, veterans, law enforcement, firefighters, emergency, Medical services, and SROTC cadets and Midshipmen. I’ve worked with people from all of those categories since I began my adjudication career.

This training should be recognized as a community involvement action as well as continuing education by leadership in all areas. It benefits the individual and potentially thousands of SROTC and JROTC cadets.

It Works!

I’ve been fortunate enough to have two people support my efforts and employ my system for their drill meet. It worked extremely well, even with the learning curve. Yes, some balked because it’s different. Don’t be one of those “simpler ways” people, go for the best in adjudication.

Start Your Training Here

Just like anything else in life, you need education and training to do it well. The cadets who you judge deserve your time and effort because they put in so much time and effort.

Now, download the scoresheets, the Criteria Reference sheets, and start watching the videos. I’m here to help if you have questions. Together, we can all take drill and ceremonies to new heights to the benefit of all involved.

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