JOINT BASE ANACOSTIA-BOLLING, Md. –
A duct-taped, 12-pound rifle fixed with an 11-inch blade launches up in the air, heightening tension, as it finds a drill team trainee's hand, arm or the ground, in preparation for its next movement.
CLANK, CLANK, THUD!
"Weapon down!" yells the trainee, as his heels clink together and he pops to attention.
The trainees also halt their drill movements, as sweat drips down their faces.
The instructor gives the trainee permission to pick up his wounded M1 Garand and the count toward 50 consecutive weapon movements starts back at zero.
If it happens again, the instructor might not let the students off so easy.
Exhausted yet outfitted with unwavering discipline, trainees have eight, 60-hour weeks of countless calisthenics and precision weapon movements they must complete to achieve a spot on the United States Air Force Honor Guard Drill Team.
The volunteer-based training is open to all USAFHG. It requires a letter of recommendation, an interview and a physical fitness test.
"I tell them when they first start learning these moves; no one is going to make it through easily. It's a tough course," Senior Airman Korey McConnell, USAFHG drill training instructor said. "When I first started using the weapon, I was told I was the worst driller they've ever seen come through training. I couldn't catch the weapon; I threw it about 20 times and just kept cutting myself. I actually hold the record for the most broken bayonets."
Yet, McConnell remained determined to make the team.
"If you're struggling with the weapon, give it time. I let them know how bad of a driller I was, and we all have to start somewhere before we have the time and experience to get better.
This is McConnell's first time instructing. He was hand selected by leadership due to his seniority and knowledge.
"You can see there is a level of discipline and cohesiveness that you don't necessarily see in other units," Airman 1st Class Kosei Carty, USAFHG drill team trainee said. "I wanted to be a part of it."
"I thought, if I'm trying to be the best, I might as well be the best of the best," said USAFHG drill team trainee, Airman 1st Class Larry Brown.
The Drill Team represents the top 10 percent of the USAFHG. They travel around the world to showcase drill performances at public and military venues to recruit, retain and inspire Airmen.
The course started on Jan. 5, with nine trainees and is currently down to six trainees: two Non-Commissioned Officers and four junior-enlisted airmen.
"Even though it's difficult at times, they're pushing you, you're pushing them, and everyone is doing it together," Brown said. "My team keeps me motivated."
In order to memorize the movements and ensure discipline, the trainees are instructed to perform a set of 50 movements correctly, continuously and without a weapon hitting the floor. If they fault, the entire drill starts over.
"It's awkward," Airman 1st Class Jacob Wilson, USAFHG Drill Team trainee said. "At first it is muscle memory, and then you have to focus on the tiny stuff along with keeping you're military bearing when you get frustrated. This is the hardest thing the Honor Guard has to offer, so it is all expected. It's why I'm here."
Trainees are taught the fundamentals of precision drill while maintaining physical fitness with push-ups, flutter-kicks, mountain climbers; learning to focus past fatigue.
"It takes determination, commitment and you have to be able motivate yourself and other people," Carty said. "You see us doing all the physical stuff, but honestly, the mental part is the hardest. You have to overcome all of your mental lapses by making your movements look good while constantly checking your body and all the individual details."
If not, being cut by the 11-inch bayonet is a very likely.
"When we drill, the bayonet is inches away from your teammate's face," McConnell said. "One mistake can send a weapon doing something absolutely crazy. You just have to trust the person next to you, to do everything absolutely perfect."
Going into week two of training, trainees are learning more than just drill movements.
"This training has made me more patient with myself and other people," Carty said. "I do my best to not get frustrated and get better every day.
At the end of the course, trainees will have two attempts to pass final evaluations and become a member of the elite, USAFHG Drill Team.
"I honestly just love coming to work and working this job every single day," McConnell said. "It's not something very many people get to do. To say I had the chance to instruct an entire drill team training class. That's what keeps me motivated every day, coming in and hopefully seeing these guys get better."
For more information about joining the USAFHG visit: http://www.honorguard.af.mil/recruiting/index.asp