The Carroll County JROTC Raider team, led by Hunter Blessing and Tyler Krejci, turned in an impressive showing in the recent 4th Brigade “Best of the Best” competition, finishing second out of the top 22 schools (out of a total of 337) in the 4th Brigade. Carroll County was also the top finisher among Virginia schools, making them state champions.
“We’ve come a long ways. The first couple of years, we weren’t that competitive with the best teams, but the last three years we have been very competitive with the best teams. They know who we are,” said Lt. Col. Mark Carper, who heads Carroll County’s JROTC program.
The finish is the best in the history of the program, topping the 13th place finish of two years ago. Last year, the competition was cancelled due to a lack of funding caused by the sequester.
Carper pointed to Blessing and Krejci as key factors in his team’s best-ever finish. Both have competed all four years of high school.
“They’ve really played a big part in our success, not only with their performances, but with their leadership both on and off the field,” said Carper. “They’ve had to take the blame a couple of times, so it’s only fair to give them the credit.”
Blessing was particularly impressive, finishing as the overall Top Male in the Modified Army Fitness Test with 278 out of a possible 300 points.
However, Blessing downplayed the individual honor, saying, “We are very close as a team. You’re not doing it for yourself; you’re doing it for the team.”
Although he has been highly successful, Blessing said he had to be pushed into participating in the JROTC program.
“Before starting the ninth grade, I really didn’t want to do it. My mom said she would like me to do it. However, once I began experiencing the class, I really enjoyed it. It’s one of the few classes that prepare you for the real world.”
Although he enjoys the class time, Krejci said “Outside of the class room is where all the fun stuff takes place – the competition, the color guard.”
Heading into the “Best of the Best” competition, Krejci said he only had two goals.
“I wanted to beat Magna Vista and East Surry high schools. They are the two schools closest to us and I was tired of them winning,” he said.
Krejci said he was particularly proud of his team’s second-place finish in the 5K run since most teams were made up entirely of males and Carroll had two female runners. The Raiders also placed second in the Logistics Relay, third in the PT Test and sixth in the Litter Carry and Rope Bridge events. Penalties in each of the last two events cost the Raiders the overall championship, said Krejci.
“If we had not had two penalties, just one, we would have finished first,” he said.
The Raiders’ finish was particularly impressive since it came the day following the Carroll County High School Prom.
“Some team members only had two hours of sleep,” noted Krejci, who added, “I know I wasn’t feeling good during the PT Test.”
The Raiders now advance to the nationals in Molena, Ga., in November. However, since Blessing and Krejci will have graduated, they will not be allowed to compete. However, both said they hoped to be there to support their former teammates.
“I have confidence in our team placing in the top three, but it’s frustrating not to be competing,” said Krejci.
While Blessing will be attending Liberty University in the fall to study music, Krejci will give the U.S. Army a try. He reports to Fort Jackson in Columbia, S.C., on Aug. 5. Since he has competed in JROTC, he has already received a promotion, according to Carper. Krejci, who will be trained for an intelligence position, hopes to eventually apply to West Point.
Michael Howlett can be contacted at 276-728-7311 or on Twitter@MikeEHowlett