South Forsyth grad earns spot on elite drilling team at The Citadel

A South Forsyth High School graduate has been selected as a member for a prestigious silent drill team at The Citadel.

James Howlin, a rising senior at The Citadel and a 2014 graduate of South, was recently chosen to be one of 61 members of the Summerall Guards, a silent drill team named for Gen. Charles P. Summerall, former Chief of Staff for the U.S. Army and president of the school from 1931-1953.

“It’s just an honor to carry on this great tradition The Citadel has had for years now," Howlin said. "Since Gen. Summerall was president of the school it’s been going on. I’m just happy to be able to carry it on next year. Whatever training next year’s junior class starts, I’m looking forward to that and performing around the Southeast.”

The guard performs at events across the country including Mardi Gras, the inauguration of President Donald Trump, Disney parks and college and pro football games.

“We’ll go to whatever destination it is and perform our eight-10-minute performance of silent drill,” Howlin said. “It involves a lot of different maneuvers that the whole platoon does with the commander standing off to the side, kind of overviewing everything.”

Howlin said being named to the group had extra significance since he was the second-highest rank, and a friend earned the first.

“At The Citadel, only 61 guys can be named a Summerall Guard each year, and actually me and a good buddy of mine, we’re the top two guys; the commander and the first sergeant,” he said. “The commander, his name is Aaron Tribbett, and I’m the first sergeant.”

The positions mean the two came away from an extensive training process with the fewest “cuts,” a demerit system given to those attempting to become guards called bond volunteer aspirants, or BVAs.

“It lasts over both semesters of the school year,” he said. “The first semester is kind of a weeding out process that is the last three weeks of the fall semester and involves physical training days … on Mondays for three weeks. The current Summerall Guards will train the juniors trying to become a guard.”

Howlin said for the first phase, physical training was typically two hours of stationary exercise – pull-ups, dips, mountain climbers and other exercises – before a 30-50-minute run holding an M-14 rifle, including putting the gun above your head and locking arms when told.

He called the second phase “definitely a much harder process.”

“The second phase consists of 15 [training] days, so it goes up from three to 15, and that’s five weeks of Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday [training],” he said. “The runs go up in intensity.”

Howling said he wanted to become a guard after a back injury his sophomore year ended his career running cross country and indoor and outdoor track for The Citadel.

“My junior year rolled around, and I wanted something where I could kind of be part of a team and I figured something like the Summerall Guards I could have 60 of my buddies I got to school with, and we could kind of do the same thing, kind of be on that team aspect again,” he said.

Previously Howlin made several state appearances as a member of track, swimming and cross country teams at South Forsyth, where he was also on an engineering team.

Howlin said he is still deciding whether to pursue a career in engineering or in the military, where he would be commissioned as a second lieutenant after graduation.

“I’m waving back and forth between going military or engineering route,” he said. “I’ve got one more year to decide what I want to do, but as of right now I’m still undecided on going into the Marine Corps or the engineering sector.”