A few students learn basics of leadership

Cadets overcome obstacles at junior ROTC camp


Fifteen students in matching, light-green T-shirts and camouflage hats huddled at the base of "The Wall," brainstorming ways to scale it. The 12-foot barrier was the last of several obstacles the junior ROTC cadets had to complete yesterday, and they weren't going to get past it unless they worked together.

The obstacle course is just one of the challenges for 30 Baltimore County students who are camping this week at a Boy Scout reservation just south of the Mason-Dixon line. The camp is designed to strengthen leadership and teamwork skills for the cadets, who are from Lansdowne High School and Patapsco High School and Center for the Arts.

"The purpose of this camp, basically, is to build confidence and prepare them for the real world," said 1st Sgt. Victor Vaughan, Lansdowne High's military instructor.

It also "helps us to find those leaders out there," said Bruce Kahl, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who is senior Army instructor at Patapsco High.

In years past, junior ROTC cadets from the schools joined hundreds of other cadets at a military base in Virginia. But this year, federal funding for that trip was reduced, so the Lansdowne and Patapsco students raised money to go on their own retreat, and they headed Sunday to the Broad Creek Memorial Scout Reservation in Harford County. The Army is paying for their food.

Vaughan said he and the other three counselors are there to supervise the cadets and provide help if someone asks. But because it is a camp focusing on leadership, the cadets do all the work themselves.

When it came time to scale the obstacle course wall, Adam Gaster, a rising Patapsco senior who is a captain in the junior ROTC, was lifted onto the shoulders of one cadet. The others spotted him. One cadet already at the top helped pull Gaster up.

"Wow, that was hard!" Gaster, who enlisted with the Marine Corps in June, shouted to the remaining cadets as he leaned over the wall.

Then one by one, each cadet made it over the top of the wall. The cadets then applauded themselves before huddling once more.

The cadets' day begins at 6 a.m. as reveille plays over a camp PA system. The students have time to eat and take showers before training begins at 9 a.m.

Yesterday, while half of the company went through the obstacle course they know as COPE, or Challenging Outdoor Personal Experiences, the other 15 learned about using rowboats, canoes and kayaks. The groups switched activities after lunch.

Dinner is at 6 p.m., and taps comes over the PA system at 10 p.m. to signal it's time to retire.

Stacey Lamm, who spent the morning paddling a kayak, said she's thankful for the junior ROTC discipline because "it keeps my grades straight."

"It's something fun to do and it's basically like a family to me," said Lamm, a Lansdowne rising senior and a junior ROTC second lieutenant.

Jon Horkey, a junior ROTC sergeant first class at Patapsco, said he found the program and the camp have taught him a lot about himself.

"It's a lot of fun. We're always doing something," he said. "This camp has really helped me in becoming a leader. I'm typically a follower."


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