Beginning with a formal ceremony, the Iron Horse Battalion cadets were put through marching drills, a color presentation and an inspection by directors of the program. The inspection is the pinnacle of the battalion’s hard work throughout the year and Major William Herrera, who is in his third year of directing the Sparks High JROTC, said Wednesday that the preparation put in by the cadets really paid off.
“It is like this with every inspection where a week out we are kind of nervous because the company is dragging a little, and then it gets to game day and they just step up,” Herrera said. “They actually really surprised me and they did really well.”
After viewing one of his battalion’s biggest events of the year, Herrera said there was plenty to be impressed by from the young students. He said the numerous months of preparation and the 6:30 a.m. rehearsal sessions really proved critical in the group’s performance.
“The number one thing that impressed me is the commander of troops did an excellent job because that is a lot of pressure on a young kid up in front of 250 folks,” he said. “Then the kids who did the marching routine, because they have a strict area where they are able to make their calls or they will be running into bleachers and chairs. Those are the two things that stand out in my mind.
“This is one of our culminating events for the year and we have built ourselves up to this date. It has been a long work in progress and a lot of preparation was poured into it.”
Battalion Commander Ana Caceres, a senior at Sparks High School, said she was proud of the way her cadets performed both in practice and during the ceremony. In Caceres four years in the JROTC she has seen the numbers of students participating grow from 80 to 189 and she said the transformation the students have made is eye-opening.
“When I first started here I didn’t really know what was going on, and as it has been growing and growing I have started to see more people supporting each other,” she said. “There is much more motivation and people caring about their cadets and bettering themselves and growing as leaders.”
Caceres said her personal improvement is an example of the transformation she has seen in her cadets. She rose through the ranks during her four-year tenure and picked up some noticeable character traits along the way.
“My freshman year I was that shy girl in the back of the company and I didn’t like to speak up and I was terrible at marching,” she said. “I didn’t really feel like I was a part of something until the second semester of freshman year when i started to see people caring a lot more about that. That was when I realized I could do something and I began growing as a leader and talking to more people.
“By junior year I was a company commander and it sort brought me out of my shell. I have terrible stage fright, but I am working on it and ROTC has helped me so much. It has helped me believe in myself and it has challenged me. I never thought I would be right here right now at this time last year. It helped me self confidence, motivated me and it has helped every part of my life.”
Caceres and her fellow senior leaders presented their duties and goals to Principal Wanda Shakeenab, Dean of Students Teresa Quintana, Washoe County School District Board of Trustee member John Mayer and Director of Army Instruction Norb Czech following the formal ceremony. With 17 seniors in the battalion, all of which are graduating in the spring, Herrera said seeing them go gives him mixed emotions.
“It is always bittersweet because we lose a lot of our seniors who go off and do what they do after high school,” Herrera said. “That is the sad part is seeing those kids go because you have had them for four years, but the flip side of that is that you have a brand new crop coming in for a fresh start.”
Caceres said being in the JROTC changed so much about her life and, most importantly to her, the people in it. She said leaving the battalion behind will be tough to do, but she will be able to reap the rewards from her journey through the program forever.
“What I will miss most is definitely the people,” Caceres said. “The people are all really nice and we do get along well. I met most of my friends here and all of them and the instructors all really care about their cadets and I know I am going to miss that the most.
“I am really proud of my battalion. They did an amazing job and I couldn’t have asked for more.”