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Insignia of the National Society of Pershing Rifles
The Pershing Rifles, a military drill team organization for college-level students, was founded by then 2nd Lt. (later General of the Armies) John J. Pershing in 1894 at the University of Nebraska-Lincolnmarker. Over time, the Pershing Rifles organization was adopted by several other universities as well to include tactical units as well as drill and ceremony. Together, these units form what is known today as the National Society of Pershing Rifles.



In 1891, General Pershing, then a 2LT in Troop L, 6th Cavalry Regiment at Fort Bayardmarker, New Mexicomarker, became a professor of Military Science and Tactics at the University of Nebraskamarker. Pershing wished to increase the morale and discipline of the battalion there, as well as to increase support for the Cadet Corps throughout the university's staff and community. To this end, he formed a hand-picked company of men, known as Company A, and made them his premier drill unit.

The following year, Company A won the Maiden Competition at the National Competitive Drills held at Omahamarker, Nebraskamarker, earning the "Omaha Cup" and $1,500 for the group. The spectators were so excited by the event that they left their seats and carried the cadets off the field. In 1893, the special drill company became a fraternal organization bearing the name "Varsity Rifles." In 1894, the organization, in appreciation of the initiative and cooperation of LT. Pershing, changed its name to the "Pershing Rifles." Under Pershing's leadership, the organization won the Army Silver Cup for drill team competition, coming in second place after West Pointmarker. When Pershing left Nebraska in 1895, at the request of a committee he gave to the company a pair of his cavalry breeches. These breeches were cut into small pieces and were worn on the uniform as a sign of membership.

From 1900 to 1911, the Pershing Rifles reached the height of their existence prior to World War I. Membership was a great military honor that continued until 1911. After that date, the organization lost prestige and declined. Its activity suddenly seemed to cease, and the organization became a mere a shadow of itself. Its military influence decreased, and its social activities lessened.


A Pershing Rifleman (Joe Amschler, EKU Company R-1) performing a solo exhibition drill routine.
In 1917, conditions became so bad that the organization was disbanded and its records burned. In 1920, the Pershing Rifles were formed again. By 1924, it had regained some of its lost prestige and special drill companies all over the country began to seek admittance into the Pershing Rifles.

The present National Honorary Society of Pershing Rifles owes its existence to Ohio State Universitymarker (OSU). In the fall of 1922, a group of advanced course men got together and formed "The President's Guard". This new organization was too loosely-organized and too closely allied to the regular drill for the company to stand alone. On May 13, 1925, it applied for affiliation with the Pershing Rifles; the Nebraska organization refused. The OSU group, seeing the need of a national organization for basic men, threatened to nationalize "The President's Guard" and leave Nebraska out of it if the two organizations could not merge together. The Nebraska organization approved the formal application of the OSU group after a year of negotiations. The Dickman Rifles, organized at the University of Daytonmarker to honor Major General Joseph T. Dickman, attended a Pershing Rifles drill competition in 1931. This competition led the Dickman Rifles to merge into the Pershing Rifles.

In 1928, the National Headquarters was established at the University of Nebraska. This laid the foundation for a strong national unit. Over the summer, applications for charters were sent to many universities across the nation. As a result, today there are over 200 units in nine combined regiments. (At one time there were 17 regiments; they have been combined, and only nine remain.) The Regimental Headquarters serve primarily as administrative units acting as the liaison between National Headquarters and all units of their respective regiments. The regiment aids in solving various problems that individual units may encounter during the course of the year. The regimental commanders, the national commanders, and the national commander make up the legislative body of the National Society of Pershing Rifles. This body dictates what happens in the society for the upcoming semester.

Membership and competitions

membership is restricted to college students enrolled at an institution that hosts a Pershing Rifles company. Members may be either male or female and while a majority have affiliation with the military (especially ROTC), it is not a prerequisite for membership.

Each company has latitude in selecting their uniform and weapons. They vary from company t-shirt and BDU pants to more formal uniforms, like the Army's service uniforms, or "Class A's". Many companies wear berets, in a wide variety of colors. The only real consistencies within companies are the wear of a Pershing Rifles rank shield and, on dress uniforms, a shoulder cord and the Pershing Rifles Service Ribbon, which is blue with six vertical white lines, symbolic of the six core values held by a Pershing Rifleman. The W-4 Company at The College of William & Marymarker may wear Scots Guards uniforms as recognition of their role as the Queens' Guard, a ceremonial guard unit mustered upon visits by Queen Elizabeth II to the College.

Most Pershing Rifles companies use older battle rifles (especially the M1903 Springfield or M1 Garand) in performing routines. At the annual National Society of Pershing Rifles National Convention and Drill Competition (NATCON), active companies compete in various categories of regulation drill (like proficiency at performing a color guard) and exhibition drill (also known as trick drill, involving spinning or throwing the rifles).

Other Pershing Rifles companies, such as Company B-9 (University of Colorado at Bouldermarker), Company C-9 (Colorado School of Minesmarker), Company B-12 (Boston Universitymarker) and Company C-12 (Massachusetts Institute of Technologymarker), focus on tactical training. These companies teach their members skills such as escape and evasion, survival skills, rappelling, hand-to-hand combat, and marksmanship.


Company E-16 performs a Color Guard for Colin Powell
  • The purpose of the National Society of Pershing Rifles is to develop, to the highest degree possible, outstanding traits of leadership, military science, military bearing, and discipline within the framework of a military oriented, honorary fraternity." —General of the Armies John J. Pershing

The above quote is a widely-accepted mission statement of the National Society of Pershing Rifles units today. The bulk of this "quote" is taken from the Purpose of the Pershing Rifles, by General Pershing himself.

  • "The purpose of the Pershing Rifles is to foster a spirit of friendship and cooperation among men in the military department and to maintain a highly efficient drill company." - as stated by General John Joseph Pershing.

  • "For the first time in my life I was a member of a brotherhood," [Colin] Powell would later say about the Pershing Rifles. "The discipline, the structure, the camaraderie, the sense of belonging were what I craved. . . . I found a selflessness within our ranks that reminded me of the caring atmosphere within my family. Race, color, background, income meant nothing."

  • "I waited until my junior year to pledge for a military fraternity, The Pershing Rifles. This was later than most other students, but all my life I was a late bloomer. The pledging was tough and physical, but also military. I received a lot more exposure to weapons and military discipline than I would otherwise have obtained. My brother was in Vietnam and I believed I would wind up there, too."

Notable alumni


  1. Colin Powell, by Geoffrey M. Horn, p. 18, Gareth Stevens, 2004. ISBN 0836852672.
  2. Five Stars, by James F. Muench, p. 83, University of Missouri Press, 2006. ISBN 0826216560.
  3. Encyclopedia of the Great Plains, by David J. Wishart, p. 833, University of Nebraska Press, 2004. ISBN 0803247877.
  4. Pipe Clay and Drill, by Richard Goldhurst, p. 42, Reader's Digest Press, 1977. ISBN 0883490978. This work goes on to note "These cadets constituted themselves as the Varsity Rifles, later changing their name to the Pershing Rifles, an organization which spawned hundreds of chapters on other campuses in the coming decades."
  5. Five Stars, p. 83
  6. Black Jack, by Frank Everson Vandiver, p. 135, Texas A&M University Press, 1977. ISBN 0890960240.
  7. Dickman biography on 3rd Army ARCENT webpage
  8. B-9 homepage
  9. C-9 homepage
  10. C-12 homepage
  11. Colin Powell, by Reggie Finlayson, p. 28, Twenty-First Century Books, 2004. ISBN 0822549662.
  12. Veteran of a Foreign War, by Stephen J. Candela, p. 16, St. John's Press, 2004. ISBN 0971055149.
  13. Patricia Morrisroe, Mapplethorpe: A Biography, illustration. (Da Capo Press, 1997. ISBN 0306807661)
  14. metroherald page


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