Not for pay, but for love of the art

Published 6:19 pm Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The crack and snap of cut moves sounded out over the greens at Picayune Memorial High School on Monday. The NJROTC watched the exhibition drill of one of their own, Jacob Spiers, who has made it all the way to Washington, D.C. as a rifleman in the New Guard America (NGA) team. Spiers stands 6 feet 4 inches tall, and his every move is crisp and deliberate. He made his rifle spin and whorl in precision exhibition.

“For love of the art” is the motto of NGA. It is an elite exhibition drill team that competes and performs solo, tandem, and four-man teams. It is a six-man team, and Jacob Spiers of Picayune is its newest rifleman.

Five years ago, Chief Mark Thorman asked who would like to drill. Spiers was a freshman at the time, and raised his hand to give drill a shot. It didn’t take long for him to start liking drill so much he spun and twirled everything in his hands.

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“I took a general interest in it for myself. It wasn’t a grade anymore,” Spiers said. “I twirled umbrellas, baseball bats. I dented a $150 baseball bat, my brother’s.”

“He broke lamps and vases,” his mother Hope Walton said. “He couldn’t talk to you without twirling something. His hands were constantly moving.”

After graduation from Picayune Memorial High School, he wanted to continue drilling.

“I looked at the website for New Guard America (NGA),” Spiers said. “I watched the videos, and I liked the team so I sent an e-mail.”

When the founder of NGA, Constantine H. Wilson, received his e-mail, he asked Spiers to send in a video of his routine. Shortly after that, Spiers received an invitation to come to Washington to tryout for the team. He came home from that meeting, gathered his gear and moved to Washington in October of 2006.

“I paid rent for one month and set out to find a job,” he said. “In Picayune it’s hard to find a job, but not in D.C. I first went to work at Blockbuster. I was making very little money and living very thriftily. My next job was at a cruise ship restaurant. That job was double shifts from about 9 a.m. to midnight. There wasn’t any time to practice drill, no weekends or evenings off. Then I got the job I have now. I work at the Department of State in passports. It’s good money, benefits, holidays, weekends and evenings off. And our bosses are cool with our drilling.”

Spiers spends his waking hours in a regimen for drill. He wakes, goes to work, comes home and changes then heads to drill practice which lasts for three hours, then home to bed. That is the Monday, Wednesday, Friday drill. Weekends are for performances or competitions or practice.

Spiers’ uniform isn’t from any particular branch of the military. The NGA is not affiliated with any branch although Wilson does train the Navy honor guard drill team.

“We’re civilian. We’re a professional team that competes and performs. Sometimes we train high school teams for a price or train military teams, but that is at a price,” Spiers explained.

In the 2007 World Championships, the NGA placed seventh in the world, and Commander Wilson placed third. Spiers has performed three times since he’s been on the team. He has four routines, and should have about five or six routines. He performed his solo routine for the NJROTC on Monday.

His solo includes a dangerous J-Hook maneuver. What makes it so dangerous is the added 10 inches of the fixed bayonet. The point comes within an inch of his torso, his head and then his back during the movement. The rifle is tossed up over his head, it makes two rotations and then he catches it behind his back, all the while, the rifle is in a horizontal rotation.

“The only reason I tried this on purpose,” he said, “is because I was hyped up to do it. You can’t patent a move, but you can get it so hard no one will try it. If anyone thinks it isn’t dangerous, I’ve got proof (it is).” Spiers lowered his head showing a freshly healed gash on the top of his head.

It wasn’t the J-Hook that gave him his “blood anointing”, though. You can view the video of that particularly “bad day at practice #4” on the NGA website at (notice there is no www in front of the address).

The four-man team has a maneuver which is just as dangerous as the J-Hook. Each man is a corner of a square and the maneuver involves catching the rifle tossed from one corner in the square to the next corner and the team moves catching their rifle over their shoulder. Spiers caught it with his head. The video on the New Guard website is quite graphic.

The team is practicing this move tossing and twirling their rifles, then Spiers tosses up his rifle and the bayonet comes down on the top of his head. A river of blood pours down his face and he says, “This hurts like hell, I’m not going to lie.” His team believes him because it has happened to them, too, which is where the term “blood anointing” comes from.

Another, even more dangerous maneuver is the Cranial Karatotomy which is NGA’s signature maneuver. This is a five-man movement. The center man tosses his rifle over his head while his teammates toss their rifles to each other from corner to opposite corner. The bayonets come within inches of the man in the center. No other team in the world can perform this move. It isn’t patented because the US Patent Office doesn’t patent maneuvers. But no other drill team has ever been able to perform it in public to date.

“We’re one of the world’s most recognized bayonet teams. In fact the only bayonet team. We’re one of America’s elite internationally as well. There are other drill teams all over the world, but they do not drill bayonet. Our commander has been training champion drill teams for 26 years,” Spiers said proudly. “We start on the edge of insanity and work our way up. The commander says that over and over.

“What we do is so dangerous, we have several moves that no one will try because they are so dangerous. Sometimes I’ll get e-mails saying, ‘Hey, I tried your move’ and I’ll say, ‘So what happened?’ and they write back, ‘I lost four teeth.’

“People ask us over and over ‘How do you do that?’ ‘How do you get hit that hard and still drill?’ My boss was flabbergasted and asked me if I’d be going back home. I told him I didn’t move a thousand miles to get hurt by a little rifle and quit.”

“When I first looked into this,” he added, “I thought there were just six men who tried out for the team, but that isn’t the case. Constantine gets lots of e-mails and video tapes a week. He never tells them, ‘You suck at this,’ but, he does tell them you need to be a lot better. You have to be really good at this to get chosen. I just thought I was good in high school. I have learned so much in this past year. I’m getting better all the time, and I know a lot more about drilling.”

When talking about getting paid for it, Spiers said, “Seriously, I could not do it for a paycheck. If we got paid, everyone in America would be trying to do this. You just won’t love it anymore, if you got paid. It really is for the love of the art.”

In February, NGA will be trying for world records. Spiers will be practicing a triple J-Hook for this. A triple is when the rifle rotates three 360 degrees over his head.

Spiers describes the sport as a sport of infinite possibilities. “Rules are military, but in exhibition anything goes, no one can say you can’t do that. It’s however far your stupidity and insanity will take you. We have shirts that say ‘Know drill, embrace pain’, and ‘Give blood, go drill’. When we get hurt we don’t dwell on it. We try to make light of it the best we can and press on.”

The oldest man on the team is Wilson who is 42 and he holds nine records, and you don’t have to be 6 feet 4 inches, to drill with fixed bayonet. Wilson is 5 feet 7 inches. Wilson breaks everything down to the anatomy of each move, Spiers explains his commander’s training techniques. Then he said, “He’s a great man, a beautiful Christian.”

Spiers’ passion pours out, “I’d recommend this for anyone who