December 22, 2004
Reveille sounds in the darkness each morning at Chandler High School as eight student cadets assemble in formation near the historic steps of Old Main.
The students wear red berets and braided red-andblue cords over their right shoulders to signify membership in the school’s elite honor guard. As they march in quick, coordinated steps, their black polished shoes reflect the light of nearby street lamps.
Then two cadets step forward with the American flag folded in a neat triangle and two more follow with the state flag. Their conduct and dress suggest the presence of a large audience or visiting dignitary.
But neither exists.
Most Chandler High students and teachers are still home in bed as the flags rise briskly up the pole in front of the East Valley’s oldest campus.
Nine hours later, afternoon motorists along Arizona Avenue sometimes slow down or honk when the guard reassembles to retire the colors. Pedestrians and after-school stragglers also pause to salute. And an occasional diner will step out of Elmer’s Tacos across the street and watch.
But in the mornings, the cadets have raised the flags every school day for the last three years in near anonymity. Even a water line that burst earlier this month and flooded the courtyard around the flagpole did not interrupt the ceremony that has become the signature of the school’s fledgling Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps program.
"They don’t know any different," said their teacher, retired Air Force Lt. Col. Gary Jones. "That’s the way they’ve been trained."
Cadet Staff Sgt. Scott Smith, a 15-year-old sophomore, said he wakes up each morning at 4 a.m. and polishes his shoes and irons his uniform for the ceremony.
"It would be nice to stay in bed," he said. "But I show up to honor the flag every morning. And I’m dedicated, so I just keep doing it."
Smith said he also joined the honor guard out of respect for his father. "My dad used to be in the military, and I think about him every time I do it," he said.
Freshman cadet Christina Beyer, 14, not only shows up each morning — she has earned a reputation for showing up with a smile.
"When I wake up in the morning, I’m happy because I know I get to raise the flag," she said.
Jones, who previously led the ROTC unit at Oklahoma State University, said he brought the color guard tradition to Chandler High.
After Hamilton High School opened four miles away in 1998, Chandler High operated for four years without a junior ROTC unit because the district only had one military charter. Jones said he wanted his students to have something special to take pride in when the Chandler High unit re-emerged in 2002.
He said students must audition for the honor guard — and cadets who show up past 6 a.m. more than once are removed. "That’s the elite," he said. "That’s the best we have in the corps."