On February 13 – 18, I had the amazing opportunity to perform in the Mardi Gras King Rex Parade with the University of Florida, U.S. Army ROTC Gator Guard Drill Team. I am currently in my last semester at the College of Central Florida, and I am the last and only surviving member of the CF ROTC Pilot Program.
Being a member of the Drill Team, we practice four days a week during the school year to prepare for upcoming events and parades, with Mardi Gras being our final destination to test our skills as a group. The Drill Team uses M1903 rifles with 8-inch bayonets on the top.
Once we arrived for the parade, the anticipation was crazy. We saw so many floats past by with beads and vibrant color costumes. Our practices throughout the year definitely paid off with the amount of professionalism shown when it came to our military bearing and in sync movements. The crowd would yell “Tiger Bait!” as we walked by. However, every time we performed one of our drill movements, the crowd would cheer. We actually won the crowd over!
One section of the crowd played the army song as we marched by, to which the Gator Guard sang along. In another interactive moment, we were halted half way through the parade. In Mardi Gras, there is a new king of the parade every year. It is tradition for the new king to stop and have coffee with the oldest king still alive during the parade. This can take anywhere from 5-20 minutes.
During our halt, the team kept baring, staying at the position of parade rest. That is, until the crowd played the Wobble song by V.I.C. on their loud speakers. The Gator Guard Commander then called us to the position of attention and yelled the command, “Wobble Manual Arms,” to which the entire platoon began to dance. This allowed us to not only take a break from the seriousness of the event, but also enjoy the culture and tradition which is Mardi Gras.
Once the parade continued to move again, the team fell back into position. Around this time, we began to approach the judge’s box, where they grade each individual float and organization. This is where the pressure came into play, as this is where we were performing the “Bomb Toss”. This movement includes five actual tosses with plenty of room for error. As we executed the movement, the crowd began to sit in silence, watching and judging our every room. Once we threw our final toss, it felt as if time had froze. After all of us caught our individuals tosses, the crowd screamed in excitement. At this moment, we had completed our mission, we had successfully finished the Mardi Gras parade.
In closing, our commander marched us down a sidewalk, where he began to express in pride in the team. This was an emotional moment, as the commander of the team is always a senior about to graduate. It was our last hoorah together. After the parade was over, we all celebrated Fat Tuesday on Bourbon Street for a few hours before boarding the bus back to Gainesville.
The trip was absolutely incredible. To someone who has never experience a Mardi Gras, especially with a large group of friends I would consider family.
Gregory Davis is a current sophomore at the College of Central Florida, majoring in public relations. Davis began attending CF once he heard of the University of Florida Army ROTC pilot program. This program allowed student interested in becoming officer’s in the United States Army to join and participate in ROTC through UF. Now, the last member of the program, Davis found himself actively involved in the program, even joining the UF Gator Guard Drill Team. The Gator Guard Drill Team prides themselves of being experts in the field of exhibition drill, a ceremonious type of drill where cadets place showmanship in spinning M1903 rifles. This year, the Gator Guard was invited by the coordinator of the King Rex Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans, La, to perform and march within the parade.