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Making history

CMA ‘Blackjacks’ is first ROTC unit to lay Pershing wreath

Posted: December 16, 2014 4:49 p.m.
Updated: December 17, 2014 1:00 a.m.
Provided by CMA/

U.S. Maj. Gen. Jeffrey S. Buchanan (far right) stands with the CMA Blackjacks drill team near WWI Allied Forces commander U.S. U.S. Gen. John Joseph “Black Jack” Pershing’s gravesite on Nov. 11 at Arlington National Cemetery. The Blackjacks are (from left) Sgt. 1st Class Ray Brown (TAC), Cadet Charles Kloetzli of Rehoboth Beach, Del.; Cadet Cameron Carr of Canton, Ohio; Cadet Beau Oswald of Mount Juliet, Tenn.; Cadet Nicholas Hillesheim of Woodstock, Ga.; Command Sergeant Major Othel Terrell; Cadet Kevin Phillips of Mooresville, N.C.; Cadet Griffin Bach-Davis of Parker, Colo.; and Cadet Thomas Azrelyant of Hartsdale, N.Y.

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Each Nov. 11, a ceremony is held at the gravesite of U.S. Gen. John Joseph “Black Jack” Pershing, commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during World War I. For the first time in Arlington National Cemetery’s history, officials chose a Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) unit to lay a wreath at Pershing’s gravesite.

The honored unit: Camden Military Academy’s (CMA) “Blackjacks” Pershing Rifle drill team, which was also “sworn in” by the officer in charge of the event, U.S. Maj. Gen. Jeffrey S. Buchanan. The team is also the first high school Blackjack drill team in South Carolina.

The annual event is attended by representatives from 19 nations, during which each nation presents a wreath of flowers in honor of Pershing’s service to the world.

Col. Eric Boland, headmaster of Camden Military Academy, attended the ceremonies with his cadets, along with board of trustees member, Art Dumont, and his wife, Jean.

“I couldn’t shake this odd feeling, looking out at the mass of perfectly aligned graves, of all those who fought for our freedom,” Cadet Charles Kloetzli said. “It was humbling. Never before in my life has any sight affected me to this extent.”

The Blackjacks follow the National Society of Pershing Rifles of outstanding traits of leadership, military science, military bearing, and discipline in the framework of a military oriented, fraternal organization. These characteristics are also highly desirable of all good citizens. The Blackjacks are the proud keepers of this legacy and were established as a program to the high school level in 1967.

The National Society of Blackjacks has a two-fold mission:

The first is to establish in drill units throughout the U.S. an elite brotherhood of cadets, trained and motivated to protect Pershing’s ideals as patron of the organization. As in the National Society of Pershing Rifles, Blackjacks is a nationally affiliated organization dedicated to fostering a brotherhood and maintaining a group of highly motivated and proficient individuals.

The second part of the mission of the organization is preparing a student for college level ROTC and entry into the National Society of Pershing Rifles. Blackjacks is a preparatory program for recruits into Pershing Rifle units across the nation, with members of the U.S. Army, U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy (including the U.S. Marine Corps). ROTC programs teach the member the fundamentals of military procedures and conduct. When and if activated in the Pershing Rifles, cadets receive more training in how to be a better officer, soldier and citizen. Pershing Rifles cadets tend to excel in ROTC and set the standards for others to follow.

The term ‘Blackjacks’

On Oct. 1, 1892, Pershing was promoted to first lieutenant and would eventually command a troop of the 10th Cavalry Regiment (one of the original Buffalo Soldier Regiments), composed of African-American soldiers under white officers.

In June, 1897, 1st Lt. Pershing was assigned to West Point as an assistant instructor in tactics. At West Point he was not a popular officer because the cadets felt his discipline was too strict. It was here he acquired the nickname “Black Jack,” meant to be a derogatory term based on his leadership of black soldiers. He instead wore the name proudly honoring the heroic soldiers that he led, long before the legal integration of the Army under President Harry S Truman in 1948.

Since its inception at CMA, the young cadets who have committed their time and energy to the membership of this drill team have great hopes and dreams for college and/or a military career. Their first performance took place at CMA during the halftime of this year’s homecoming football game on Oct. 18. As for CMA, it is one of many new and worthwhile organizations open to its students to help them in their future endeavors.

(Story provided by Camden Military Academy.)

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