Senior women keep in step with patriotic drill team

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 Peabody Council on Aging Senior Ladies Drill Team: (back, l to r) Pam Kiriaji, Ginny Currier, Virginia Slattery, Judy Cox, Millie Gates, (center, l to r) Phyllis Manoogian, Maureen Moroney, Helen Lang, Paula Cole, (front, l to r) Lee Hardy, Fran Pomakis, drill instructor Carolyn Spencer, Doris Englemann and Peggy Triantafillou. Not pictured are Maria Aquiar and Anne Quinn.

By Ed Karvoski Jr.

There are more than a few participants and they certainly have reasons to be proud. They’re the Peabody Council on Aging (COA) Senior Ladies Drill Team, instructed by retired U.S. Marine Corps Master Sgt. Carolyn Spencer. The team is currently comprised of 15 women in their late-60s to mid-90s.

Established in 1984, the team needed a new instructor in 2002. Spencer felt it was her duty to answer the call.

“I loved march music and drilling – and I still do,” she proclaimed.

Spencer enlisted in the Marine Corps soon after turning age 19. She found a mentor while stationed at Cherry Point in North Carolina for six months. A woman master sergeant formed a drill team, which Spencer joined.

“I most strongly remember her leadership style,” Spencer said. “She was a wonderful lady, very easy going. I looked up to her; we always looked up to these senior ladies.”

That drill team conducted practices outdoors. The current team meets weekly for an hour at the Peabody COA at the Peter A. Torigian Community Life Center and rehearses on its stage. Their former instructor, also a veteran, attended the first practice with Spencer.

“He started a drill and then he said, ‘Okay, you’re on your own now,’” she relayed with a laugh. “That’s the way you learn – sink or swim!”

Still active with the drill team is charter member Fran Pomakis, now 96.

“One of the girls that was on the original team still participates,” Spencer said. “She’s got more energy than the rest of us.”

Before reporting to practices, Spencer chooses music and choreographs the routines. She strives to pick songs that are lively with a good cadence and recognizable to their audiences. Among the songs they’re using are “El Capitan,” “March of the Toy Soldiers,” “March from the River Kwai – Colonel Bogey,” “You’re a Grand Old Flag” and “Stars and Stripes Forever.”

“I listen to the music many, many times, and I’ve discovered how the marches are written,” Spencer explained. “Every 16 steps there’s a slight change; every 32 steps there’s quite a change; and every 64 steps there’s a decided change.”

The weekly, hour-long practice is a good opportunity for exercise, both physically and mentally, Spencer noted.

“The girls are pretty much in motion most of that hour, marching around the stage,” she said. “And they have to memorize and remember all the steps, so it challenges their brains.”

The practices are also a chance to socialize, Spencer added.

“I really enjoy the camaraderie with this wonderful group of girls,” she said. “We have a party at the center every month; we’ll get a table and all sit together.”

When performing for the public, team members wear formal uniforms and carry wooden rifles, which were handmade at the Peabody COA Woodworking Shop.

“The Woodworking Shop does great work,” Spencer said. “They made us two sets of rifles.”

The team is now practicing routines to be performed in a variety show at the center in the winter. They’ll perform opening numbers for both of the show’s two acts. They’ll also close the show with a patriotic finale featuring a woman dressed as the Statue of Liberty while everyone sings “God Bless America.”

Their presentations typically include the service songs of each military branch. Veterans in the audience are invited to stand when they hear their branch’s song.

“Veterans love being recognized,” Spencer said. “These ladies remember when everyone was patriotic during World War II. Everybody was involved in the defense of the country, working in factories in the war efforts, buying bonds, and fellas going overseas.”

Patriotism is a recurring theme for the team’s routines, noted Spencer, who served as a Marine four years in active duty and 16 in the active reserve.

“Just about everything I do with the drill team is patriotic,” she said. “If it isn’t, then the girls and I don’t want to do it.”

Photos/Ed Karvoski Jr.

Peabody COA Senior Ladies Drill Team members practice with rifles made at the Peabody COA Woodworking Shop.
Peabody COA Senior Ladies Drill Team members practice with rifles made at the Peabody COA Woodworking Shop.