Finding Success In The Sea Cadets
Located approximately a mile and half north of Commander, Naval Recruiting Command (CNRC) in Millington, Tennessee, and across the street from Naval Operational Support Command, Memphis, sits a simple, understated building.
The building may not look like much, but big things can be found in this understated package. Approximately 30 Navy Sea Cadets from the BB-43 division come together one weekend a month to practice drill, learn seamanship and understand naval traditions, among other subjects.
According to the U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corps (USNSCC) website, the program was established in 1958 under direction from the Department of the Navy by the Navy League of the United States to “create a favorable image of the Navy on the part of the American youth”. The organization is officially sponsored by the United States Navy and the United States Coast Guard. Although it is not an official branch of CNRC, the program does receive $1.7 million annually from CNRC. They also receive $4.3 million annually from Congress.
“I like the military environment, and I love going to the Sea Cadets trainings,” said Chief Petty Officer Mason Ayers, a member of Sea Cadets BB-43 division. “Sea Cadets is a lot of fun, and I suggest that anyone interested in the military, specifically the Navy, tries it out. “
Ayers said he was first inspired to look into military service after watching “The Battle of Midway” when he was five years old. Ayers joined the Sea Cadets at the age of 11, and for the past five years, he has ascended the ranks to become the only chief and highest ranking Sea Cadet currently in his division.
The USNSCC program is divided into two groups. First is the Navy League Cadet Corps (NLCC), which is a junior program for individuals aged 10 to 13. NLCC introduces their members to the basics of seamanship and leadership through monthly drill sessions. NLCC prepares their members for entry into the Naval Sea Cadet Corps (NSCC).
Children aged 13 through 17 are enrolled in the NSCC who, after completing a two-week recruit training camp, are able to participate in more advanced trainings conducted nationwide. Sea cadets are also eligible to attend ship visits and participate in the NSCC’s International Exchange program, which allows them to visit other Sea Cadet units worldwide.
NSCC simulates a military environment including rank structure. Rank is the same as both the Coast Guard and the Navy where individuals are able to rank up from seaman recruit (E-1) to chief (E-7) through completing time-in-rate requirements and passing examinations. Much like active duty, cadets are required to put in a package to be considered for chief. Some consider making chief in the Sea Cadets equivalent to making Eagle Scout. The package requires a certain number of trainings to be attended before a cadet may rank up.
While the specialized trainings are run by active duty personnel and professional organizations, the majority of time spent with the cadets will be at their home division. These programs are run entirely by volunteers. Volunteers don’t have to be active duty Sailors or have prior military experience in order to qualify, but for a program like the Sea Cadets, it does help.
This is why volunteers like the husband-and-wife team of Chief Aviation Electronics Technician Jonelle Eldredge and Chief Cryptologic Technician (Collection) Kevin Eldredge can be so valuable to the NSCC divisions. The Eldredge family was inspired to volunteer at the USNSCC after learning about the organization at a previous command. However, at the time, they were unable to volunteer due to the time commitment and unpredictability of being attached to a sea-going command.
Since being stationed in Millington, they have more ability to plan and more time to help improve the community through mentoring youth interested in the Navy.
“A lot of kids come into the program, and they say they didn’t really have any confidence, or they were out of shape and the program has helped them to understand what to do to improve,” said Jonelle Eldredge. “It’s a place that allows them to mature because we do expect a lot out of them.”
BB-43 division had no active-duty Sailors volunteering prior to the Eldredge’s involvement in the organization, and it is now set up to run much like a ship. Through their efforts, BB-43 division now has an announcement system similar to a ship’s 1MC intercom, bells, a quarterdeck and the various positions that help a ship function.
“I spent two drill weekends just slowly going through watch teams, and I had one of the cadets make up a watch bill, and we established an officer of the deck and a messenger of the watch so they could understand their responsibilities and that they have a job to do,” said Kevin Eldredge. “We made our front entrance the way we wanted it to look, and then from there, we just spread the discipline throughout.”
The division also includes other ship-necessary jobs like yeoman, gunner’s mates and leading petty officers. Having the responsibility of the various jobs helps the cadets grow both personally and professionally.
“It’s just like joining the actual military with these cadets becoming a part of something bigger than themselves,” said Jonelle Eldredge. “They see cadets get ribbons, they see them going to trainings, they see them growing and getting more responsibilities, and it makes them want to achieve that.”
Not only are the cadets being exposed to the responsibilities of life in the Navy, but they now have an established link to active-duty Sailors. This allows for better exposure to the different jobs the Navy provides. Although the program does provide a basic curriculum for the Cadets, the Eldredges wanted to provide more in-depth training based on interactions with active-duty personnel.
“Having access to the base and working with Sailors allowed us to get the cadets to learn from Sailors,” said Kevin Eldredge. “I asked myself, ‘Are we teaching first aid?’ then let me get a corpsman out here. ‘Are we teaching security?’ then let me get an MA (master-at-arms) out here.”
Kevin Eldredge went on to say that not only does this method provide thorough training, but it also allows the cadets to learn about the different experiences that personnel have in the Navy. It shows the cadets the many unique opportunities the Navy provides.
The Sea Cadets can help prepare individuals for a possible career in the military. Qualifying cadets receive E-3 out of boot camp and are better prepared for a Reserve Officer Training Corps program. It can also help cadets prepare for enrollment into one of the service academies. According to the NSCC website, 12% of the 2019 class at the U.S. Naval Academy were once Sea Cadets.
“I think being in the Sea Cadets opened my eyes to all of the options that were out there, and I think it helped me to get in to the academy for sure,” said Lt. Cmdr. Jessica Cline, a former Sea Cadet who graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 2010. “Being in the Sea Cadets helped me with basic leadership, how to handle responsibilities, and professionalism, the basics of how to conduct yourself on a daily basis, and I would say it sparked interest in the different career fields that were out there.”
Ayers is following the same sentiment in his decisions for his future. He is now actively pursuing enrollment in the U.S. Naval Academy after learning about the various opportunities in the Navy through the Sea Cadets. He said that he now wants to be an engineer in the Navy.
“Through the Sea Cadets, I learned that the military is more subdivided into different jobs, and I could be an engineer in the military,” said Ayers. “I also want to be an officer, so I thought the Naval Academy would be the best route for me.”
Ayers has a few words of inspiration for any Sea Cadet prospective chief petty officers. “At my first training, it was hard, and I wanted to quit,” said Ayers. “Sometimes the training is not going to be a lot of fun. Sometimes you will feel like you want to quit, but just keep going, push through it, and eventually you will get to where you want to be.”
Navy Recruiting Command consists of a command headquarters, two Navy Recruiting Regions, 15 Navy Recruiting Districts and 11 Navy Talent Acquisition Groups that serve more than 815 recruiting stations across the world. Their combined goal is to attract the highest quality candidates to assure the ongoing success of America’s Navy.