Sea Cadet Corps prepares youngsters for a life of service Military mights

October 17, 1993|By Wayne Hardin | Wayne Hardin,Staff Writer

The sky hangs pale blue and cloudless over Curtis Bay Coast Guard Yard as two sea cadet corps units march toward Building 27. The temperature is climbing toward the 80s.

Behind a roll-up door is a maze-like room as black as a coal mine chamber. It's roiling with machine-generated, non-toxic smoke and littered with obstacles. Five cadets put on air tanks and masks, readying themselves to enter this smoky nightmare.

They are the first to enter and to learn the hands-on aspect of today's fire-fighting lesson. Their faces are obscured by the masks, but their body language says they are intent on their mission.

"Remember guys, the key is teamwork," says instructor Jack Basford of the Wise Avenue Volunteer Fire Company. "It's the most important thing in fire fighting, it's the most important thing in football, in baseball, everything in life."

The young people he coaches are members of the Tecumseh Division of the U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corps and the Frigate Constellation Division of the Navy League Cadets. These youngsters, who fancy the principles of self-discipline and teamwork, train together one weekend a month under the guidance of 10 adult volunteers. And while today's lesson is on fire fighting, the larger lessons they learn will inform their lives from now on.

As U.S. troops are being dispatched to hot spots all over the world, these cadets are getting a graphic look at real military life through news reports. For some, the corps is a no-obligation internship to explore the military as a possible career. For others who've already made the A youngster in the Tecumseh Division of the U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corps participates in fire-fighting training at Curtis Bay Coast Guard Yard. Many of the cadets, boys and girls who range in age from 13 to 17, will go on to careers in the military. A similar group, the Navy League Cadet Corps, is for youngsters ages 11 to 13. At right, sea cadets (from left) Cara Baykowski, 14, John Bamberger, 14, Eric Kemp, 14, and James Ferrell, 15, discuss the firefighting exercise decision to join up, it's a head start in a job-tight world. And the corps looks mighty good to recruiters, too. With the military downsizing and becoming more selective, the corps takes on the aspect of a farm team of elite prospects.

Congressional charter

Congress chartered the sea cadets in 1962 as a non-profit civilian organization under sponsorship of the Navy League and supported by the Department of the Navy. It is open to boys and girls ages 13 to 17. The Navy League Cadet Corps is for youngsters ages 11 to 13.

There are about 250 units across the United States training more than 5,000 youngsters. In Baltimore, about 40 sea cadets and 25 league cadets currently are signed up. They train from June to October at the Curtis Bay Coast Guard Yard; November to May on the Coast Guard Cutter Taney anchored near the National Aquarium.

Adult volunteers, called officers, lead the youngsters through drills and lessons. Commanding officer Patricia Vogt, whose full-time job is production manager at a manufacturer of parts for the aerospace industry, became involved five years ago when her son was a cadet. She says the program can handle up to 100 cadets.

Cadets and officers wear uniforms akin to regular Navy issue, modified by sea cadet or league cadet insignia. Besides the required cadet boot camp, they can receive training in such things as aviation, Sea-Air-Land training (the Navy SEALs), health specialties, electronics and shipboard duties.

A two-week camp the first summer of membership in the Sea Cadet Corps gives a full taste of military life at a minimal cost -- $110 for everything, including travel.

"I give them about every kind of training I can lay my hands on," Lt. Vogt says.

Michael Kalinski, 17, with a military bearing that would shame many active-duty personnel, talks while standing at ease, back straight, hands behind him. His spit-shined shoes sparkle. He says "sir" a lot. He's obviously been well-trained.

"Sir, I'm a very disciplined individual," says the Dundalk resident. "I thrive in a disciplined environment. I've wanted to join the Navy since I was 8 years old, ever since I was old enough to formulate an idea of a career."

Michael, the only male cadet from the unit to make a perfect score in summer boot camp at Orlando Naval Recruit Training Center in Florida, is applying to the Naval Academy. He also applied to the Merchant Marine and Naval ROTC programs in case he doesn't get into the Naval Academy.

Chip Slumski, 17, of Essex, three years in the sea cadets, already has joined the Navy on the delayed entry program. He goes in June 23, 1994, after graduation from Chesapeake High School. As a result of his sea cadet training, he'll enter the Navy with an advanced pay rating, earning about $200 more a month than a regular recruit.

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