Spokane was awash in uniforms as representatives from all branches of the military prepared for the Armed Forces Torchlight Parade May 15. At the Navy Operational Support Center in West Spokane, a small sailor struggled to hitch up his uniform trousers. Members of the U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corps were preparing to meet Vice Adm. Bruce Clingan, who was in town for the parade.
The Sea Cadet program is designed to give kids a glimpse of maritime life and military discipline. Comprising the Navy League Cadet Corps for ages 10 to 13 and the U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corps for ages 13 to 17, the group meets one weekend each month for training and education.
Eleven-year-old Noah York said, “Sometimes we march. We learn about naval history.” He shuffled his feet and pulled at the collar of his uniform. “I like military history.”
Aron Eng, 18, has been a Sea Cadet for four years and said the experience has given him a head start in the military career he plans to pursue. “I’m going into the U.S. Navy,” he said. “I know how to march, I’ve got the PT (physical training) down. Now all I have to work on is my swimming.”
In addition to their monthly meeting, Sea Cadets have the opportunity to experience a variety of training exercises during the summer. For instance, one summer Eng enjoyed hanging out with the U.S. Coast Guard. “It was the most fun I’ve ever had,” he said. “My first mission was with a group of guys working with maintenance on the buoys. It was cool!”
At 16, Eng attended submarine training aboard the USS Nebraska where he learned about firefighting on a sub. “They let us dress up in full firefighter suits and put us in the simulator and turned the fire on. It was really intense – you could feel the heat and hear the roar of the fire,” Eng said.
While he’s enthusiastic about the education he’s received, Eng also appreciates the camaraderie of his fellow cadets and the support and encouragement of the officers.
After he completes basic training he hopes to be part of an explosive ordnance disposal unit. He laughed. “What kind of guy doesn’t want to blow things up?”
But the Sea Cadet program isn’t only for those interested in a military career. In fact, Lt. Cmdr. Ted Smith said, “Less than 10 percent of cadets go into the military.”
Josh Gladden is part of that majority. The Cheney High School sophomore said his career plans have changed from naval nuclear engineer to high school math teacher. But he’s not leaving the program anytime soon.
“I never understood leadership until Petty Officer Leadership Academy,” he said. The 16-year-old serves as leading petty officer for his unit. He attended the leadership academy in San Diego aboard the USS Bonhomme Richard. For nine days 50 cadets from across the country learned the skills needed to lead. “We had quizzes and tests and were interviewed by staff and officers,” said Gladden. “I graduated fifth out of 50.”
That experience opened his eyes to the potential of leadership outside of military life and inspired him to pursue a teaching career.
As leading petty officer, he said, “I’m always in front of cadets teaching them the information I’ve learned.”
Smith said the Sea Cadet program is really about citizenship. “It’s based on the Navy core values of honor, courage and commitment. Those are more than just words,” he said. “It’s something to live by.”