U.S. Naval Sea Cadets Learn Life Skills and Discipline
Writer / Christy Heitger-Ewing
When Sergio Fojo was 18 years old, he was invited by a friend to join him at a U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corps training. Fojo thought, “Why not?” Not only did he like the program enough to stick with it and later join a branch of the military, but he’s also now a junior commanding officer with the program, recruiting and training new cadets.
The U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corps is for boys and girls aged 10 to 17. Anyone is welcome to join (high schoolers, middle schoolers and home schoolers). The only three requirements are a C+ average minimum, U.S. citizen status, and staying away from gangs, drugs and alcohol.
Because the program is Navy-based, students learn the Sailor’s Creed as well as the 11 general orders of a sentry, just as a U.S. sailor would. Cadets also have to pass a physical readiness class just like they do in the Navy, which includes running, pushups and a plank.
Though it’s military-based, students don’t have to have plans to ultimately join the military in order to become part of this program – it’s not a high school ROTC program. Sanctioned by the U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard, there are 400 units throughout the United States. All officers are volunteers. Fojo works with three other officers in Avon including Administrative Officer Ensign Allison Fojo, Finance Officer INST Alexa Gardner and Career Counselor INST Douglass Bitner.
Since they are sanctioned by the Navy, cadets wear the same uniforms as active-duty sailors. The only difference is that they wear patches to signify that they are Sea Cadets.
During the first 90 days of the program, cadets must accomplish enlisted coursework. Completion of this and active participation in every drill during those 90 days shows a commitment to the program. Whether students enroll or their parents sign them up, Fojo sits down with each cadet to ask what they like and don’t like about the drills.
“Though this is a great program for any type of student, the kids who tend to thrive are the ones who want to use it to do better in life,” Fojo says. “They are the ones who often have a plan.”
Other students check out Sea Cadets because their parents were in the military, they hear about some of the trainings or they are simply curious.
Once students are in their home units for 90 days, they are sent off to recruit training (RT), during which they learn structure from their drill instructors. RT is like basic training but lasts just two weeks, and generally takes place at a military base.
“Students come back way more respectful and obedient towards their parents and elders,” Fojo says. “That’s something a lot of parents love about the program.”
Once RT is completed, students are invited to pursue their areas of interest. That may be scuba diving, radio communications or other areas. For example, if they are interested in public safety, they can perhaps learn how to become a military cop.
“They get to engage in training in which they bust into buildings, rescue hostages, pull people over and read them their Miranda rights,” Fojo says.
Kids who are musically talented can audition for the chance to travel to Washington, D.C., and perform for the president with other cadets from all over the nation.
Former Cadet Jack Croiser says joining the Sea Cadets changed the trajectory of his life by giving him insight into career options in the Navy.
“Now I’m a Master-At-Arms with the Navy and I’m doing things I never thought I would’ve been able to do,” Croiser says. “I owe it all to the Sea Cadets. Without that, I probably wouldn’t have enlisted in the Navy.”
Fojo’s unit holds their drills at the Avon American Legion. They meet on the second weekend of each month for eight-hour drills on Saturday and Sunday. At these drills, students are taught how to march and salute, along with a variety of other lessons and tasks. For instance, at a recent drill Fojo trained his cadets on car maintenance, including how to change oil, change a tire and check brakes. Fojo’s wife, a recruiting and supply officer with the program, taught the cadets how to sew, write a check and create a resume.
“We taught them a number of life skills that schools don’t teach anymore,” says Fojo, who has taken his unit to military museums so they can see what aircraft and tanks look like. In January the cadets have a uniform inspection to ensure their uniforms are pristine and their shoes shined, as is expected in the military.
Students and parents are allowed to visit the unit for two drills to check it out. It gives parents a chance to ask questions of the commanding officers, and lets students chat with the cadets.
Though no one who joins the Naval Sea Cadet Corps is obligated to enlist in the military, those who do find the transition much smoother because they have already learned so much. For students who want to attend college or pursue some other career path, they are eligible for scholarships and grants through the program.
Fojo regularly sees a huge shift in maturity level as cadets make their way through the training. Some kids come in with immature attitudes, displaying disrespectful behavior. Over time, however, they not only learn to always address officers as “sir” or “ma’am,” but they also maintain a positive attitude.
Former Cadet Scott Williamson says the Sea Cadets program enabled him to try out several different pathways that the military has to offer, which ultimately helped him contemplate future career options.
“It’s given me some exciting opportunities that are related to my current career field as a pilot,” he says.
For more information, email Fojo at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit seacadets.org.