Army ROTC Cadet Sarah Herrero, looking sharp in her Army combat uniform, stands outside one of five tourist buses lined up against a curb in downtown San Antonio ready to form a gaggle of students into something worthy of representing the Army colors.
Herrero, who stands maybe a little over five feet tall, seems to magically sprout several inches as she calls out names of high school students lined up outside the bus.
The high school students, some still waking up from a long night, quickly board the bus. They know who is in charge.
Herrero, who makes up for her size by the take-charge attitude of her command voice, later jokes that she can fit inside a standard Army-issue duffle bag.
But, her job right now is no joking matter as she takes this mission seriously.
She places great importance on taking care of, and mentoring, this bus full of color guard members.
The members, representing the nation’s best, will perform during halftime at the 2014 U.S. Army All-American Bowl.
Held annually in San Antonio’s Alamodome, the bowl brings in 90 of the nation’s football players in a classic East vs. West match-up every January.
If the AAB represents top football talent, the Army All-American Marching Band represents the nation’s best high school marching bands. This band is the equivalent of football players being selected by the NFL for "band kids."
Participating in the color guard and rifle sections are an integral part of the halftime show.
The U.S. Army All-American Marching Band has been a fixture at the bowl since 2008.
During bowl week, 125 band members receive instruction from top collegiate, high school drum and bugle corps instructors from across the country as well as educational sessions with members of the U.S. Army Field Band.
Herrero, along with other cadets who are band alumni, also act as mentors. Each cadet draws on their skills and experience when working with the current band members.
Herrero has extensive performance experience. Hailing from San Antonio, she attended John Jay Science and Engineering Academy in San Antonio where she was a member of the marching band and served as color guard captain during her senior year.
Later, in 2009, Herrero was a member of the U.S. Army All-American Marching Band Color Guard. She has served as an ROTC mentor for the Army All-American Marching Band since 2010.
She has been a member of the 2007 Revolution Drum and Bugle Corps Color guard.
Also, she was in San Antonio’s Crossmen Drum and Bugle Corps Color Guard in 2008, 2009 and 2011, and aged out as its color guard captain in 2012.
Herrero is currently working toward a Bachelor of Science degree in university studies with concentrations in mathematics, chemistry and general business at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas.
She will graduate in May and commission as an Army second lieutenant in the summer.
While at Texas Tech, she has worked as a research assistant for the department of chemistry on a project involving biodiesel fuels and has also been active in community service projects.
She was selected to be the Texas Tech University Corps of Cadets Ranger Challenge commander in 2011 and 2012, bringing home first place trophies from 5th Army ROTC Brigade both years in the female and coed divisions.
Another band alumnus, Cadet Justin Ahn brings similar experience to the band. A student at New York University, Ahn is enrolled as a junior in ROTC at Fordham University. He is majoring in politics and would like to work in the Army’s civil affairs field as a commissioned officer.
Ahn is a relative newcomer to the band and played clarinet in 2011.
ROTC experience includes competing in ROTC’s annual Ranger Challenge, belonging to his battalion’s color guard and the Pershing Rifles. His hometown is Hamden, Conn.
Cadet Andre Racanelli, who is majoring in anthropology at James Madison University, is in ROTC’s Simultaneous Membership Program (SMP).
He is a private first class in the Virginia National Guard. He said he entered the SMP so he could get some enlisted experience before commissioning through ROTC as an officer. He is currently a sophomore.
Racanelli played tenor drums in 2012 in the band and is now serving as a band mentor for the second time.
He, along with the other cadet mentors, said the most important thing they had learned from their band experience is that a person gets out of life based on what they put into it.
"I played my heart out on that [football] field in front of 40,000 people at the 2012 game," Racanelli said. "That that was one of the proudest and most fulfilling moments of my life."
Each cadet spoke about how they have drawn from their ROTC experience to be the best they can be, either in ROTC, band or color guard.
They all said that ROTC has made them become better leaders and look forward to mentoring soldiers one day, just as they are mentoring high school students now.
"We’re responsible for the best of the best high school musicians and performers," Herrero said. "We owe our best to them."