Army Drill Team will help kick off Autumn Leaf Festival

Autumn Leaf Festival in Clarion has provided many memorable events over its 65 years, but Saturday will see one of the most prestigious yet.

The United States Army Drill Team, 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, will perform at 12:30 p.m. Saturday in front of the Clarion County Courthouse to officially kick off the festival’s sapphire anniversary.

“I’ve been doing this for 32 years and, truly, I can put this event in my top five,” Clarion Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Tracy Becker said Thursday.

This drill team is just one part of the larger entity known as The Old Guard, a regiment of the Army that dates back to 1784. The Old Guard also includes the guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery.

For its part, the drill team is made up of soldiers from across the country who take part in six months of intensive training.

The team uses bayonet-tipped 1903 Springfield rifles to perform 15-to-20-minute shows at high-profile events, the latest being Sen. John McCain’s funeral.

“It’s kind of like going to an airshow and seeing the Blue Angels…it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Becker said.

Cpt. Jonathan Guelzo, commander of the Clarion Recruiting Center, likened the show to watching some forms of martial arts.

“They have these forms that showcase their techniques, so it’s individual drill movements showcased as part of a larger exhibition,” Guelzo said.

Guelzo, who has been commander at Clarion for 15 months, says that for the soldiers and the recruiting center, the Autumn Leaf Festival is a “big event” for them.

“Its constantly on our calendars,” Guelzo said.

For the past four years, the Army has partnered with the Clarion Chamber as a sponsor, and though they are a visible presence, the soldiers do plenty behind the scenes.

“They’re in our office almost every other day,” Becker said.

Becker says that not only do the soldiers provide manpower and heavy lifting for ALF, having them around provides peace of mind.

“From the moment (ALF) starts on Saturday, I’m going to be worried about everybody’s safety. The Army helps because they’re trained to handle (possible catastrophic events),” Becker said.

Guelzo adds that sponsoring the festival allows the Army to reach an audience that recent statistics have shown they seldom do.

“Only about 38 percent of America’s youth have had the chance to talk to a recruiter in the past year,” Guelzo said.

Guelzo also said that statistics are showing that only 16 percent of today’s children have a parent who has served in the military. This creates a smaller understanding of “what it actually means to be a soldier.” Guelzo said.

“If we can be involved in the community and talk to family and friends and everything, and have that dialogue there, it gives us a broader opportunity and audience,” Guelzo said.

Guelzo also hopes that with this community presence, misconceptions about the military can be corrected.

A common idea that they’re trying to eradicate is that the only job in the military is holding a gun. “That’s not all that it is, there’s career opportunities beyond that.”

The 3rd Regiment will hold a meet and greet after Saturday’s performance. Festival goers can also snag a picture and submit it to “Selfie with a Soldier” with any of the soldiers present for a chance to win prizes.

“From a quality of life aspect, I can’t imagine doing anything other than the Army,” Guelzo said, “I love being in the military and it’s made my life immeasurably better for the experience. That’s really the message that we’re trying to get out there.”