EVERETT – Gabriela Guncay, 17, walked into the gymnasium of Everett High School with 18 other students, all dressed in Marine uniforms with rifles resting on their shoulders.
Guncay, a senior on the Snohomish High School JROTC drill team, looked straight and stood still before about 200 people who packed the gym’s seating area at the Northwest Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps Drill and Rifle Conference Saturday.
With her teammates, Guncay marched the floor with precision and discipline.
To prepare for the competition, the team has practiced 6-7 a.m. Monday through Friday since the beginning of the school year, Guncay said.
“It’s a lot of dedication, but we all enjoy being together because we are friends,” she said.
In the crowd, Lynnette Montague, Guncay’s mother, said that when Guncay joined the drill team as a freshman, she was timid and shy.
Being part of the team helped Guncay grow into a confident young woman, who has been accepted in the honor society of the University of Washington, Montague said.
“This is really not about military,” Montague said. “This is about leadership and organization.”
Guncay wanted to serve in the Air Force, but couldn’t do so because of asthma. She plans to study genetic engineering at UW.
“I’m excited to start something new. It’s been a lot of years wearing a uniform,” she said.
About 400 students from 13 high schools in Western Washington competed in marching drills, physical fitness drills and air rifle competitions, said John Romann, a senior instructor. Winners will advance to the Northwest regional championship in April.
Students also organized and ran the competition, Romann said.
“Myself and my cohorts, we are just like advisers,” he said.
Matthew Landry, 17, said he joined the JROTC at Marysville-Pilchuck High School two years ago because he wants to be a Navy electrician.
“JROTC is a good leadership program,” he said.
The program taught him many things, including how to contribute to the community, Landry said. Its members spend more than 2,000 hours in community service annually, such as street cleaning and food drives.
But more than anything, Landry said he’s gained more confidence through the program.
“You’ve got to learn how to respect yourself before you can respect others,” he said.
Reporter Yoshiaki Nohara: 425-339-3029 or firstname.lastname@example.org.