When World War II ended, Texas A&M University’s population multiplied overnight with soldiers returning home. To accommodate the wave of new cadets, the university leased the Bryan Army Air Field’s facilities, which became known as “The Annex.” Now the RELLIS Campus, The Annex housed more than 5,500 Aggies from 1946 to 1950. With their own Yell Leaders, intramurals and even a newspaper called The Little Batt, freshmen made The Annex their own little Aggieland.
In fall 1947, 36 freshmen with a desire to promote unity and focus on military precision formed the Fish Drill Team, a competitive rifle drill squad. Seventy-five years later, the group founded to occupy time and build community now boasts dozens of national championships and plays an integral role in the university’s mission to develop leaders of character dedicated to serving the greater good.
Learning to Follow
Learning how to follow is crucial for any freshman in the Corps, but membership in the Fish Drill Team requires a unique form of followership. “The Fish Drill Team is about following and reaching a standard of excellence that has been set for years,” said Matthew Caputo ’22, the organization’s current senior commanding officer. For more than a decade, the team has won the Tulane Naval ROTC National Drill Competition in New Orleans.
Even with this legacy of distinction, the Fish Drill Team does not exclude any freshman cadet from joining. Each week, cadets learn how to maneuver their 8.7-pound rifle confidently and precisely through hours of intense practice. “It doesn’t matter whether or not you’ve touched a weapon in your life or completed drills before,” Caputo shared. “We have a culture of camaraderie that builds every member up to a caliber to compete nationally very quickly.”
For Cole Hudson ’25, the current freshman commanding officer, the desire to meet these high expectations came naturally even though he’d never heard of the Fish Drill Team before attending Texas A&M. “I quickly learned from upperclassmen that this lesser-known tradition has a reputation for precision and perfection,” Hudson said. “I wanted to be part of something that inspires excellence and hard work.”
In the weeks after joining the team, Hudson experienced what it was like to push himself further than he thought possible. “They say the hottest fires forge the strongest steel. On the Fish Drill Team, the fire is unbearable at times. You’re pushed to your limits every day,” he remarked. “You have to be mentally present and physically ready because the people around you are counting on you to do your part.”
After a rigorous selections process that started with 55 Fish Drill Team members vying for the commanding officer role, Hudson found himself accountable for more than just his part. In his leadership position, he is responsible for 90 cadets. At its best, his role allows him to celebrate his peers’ accomplishments. At its worst, he is personally responsible for every member’s misstep. “If someone makes a mistake, I make a mistake. If they’re doing pushups for standing an inch out of line, I’m doing pushups right next to them,” Hudson shared.
Tribute to Tradition
Though daunting expectations and fierce accountability feel unrelenting at times, knowing that decades of team members have accomplished these standards encourages cadets to keep persevering. “It’s a big confidence booster to meet the high expectations of the Fish Drill Team,” Caputo said. “It’s incredible to know that you’ve given yourself up for something bigger than yourself: tradition.”
The team’s emphasis on tradition builds cadets that display all six of the Aggie core values, but especially respect and excellence. “The Fish Drill Team is a tribute to the people who started it,” Hudson added. “Unlike tributes that take the form of a statue or a building, though, we are people striving daily to respect the past and to reach high levels of excellence.”
As years pass and new team members join, the lessons learned remain steadfast. The lesser known but highly revered Fish Drill Team tradition instills in its members a strong mental and physical fortitude that follows them for the rest of their lives. “I know there will be times in life when standards and expectations are overwhelming,” Hudson shared. “The Fish Drill Team has taught me that even when something feels impossible, we can remember the people who came before us who proved it can be done.”
Interested in helping continue this time-honored tradition? Learn more about supporting the Corps of Cadets and special initiatives like the Fish Drill Team by contacting Matt Jennings ’95, senior director of development, at the bottom of this page.
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