Sea Cadet program can shape young lives
Published: Wednesday, January 11, 2012 at 8:55 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 11, 2012 at 9:07 p.m.
Like many pre-teens, Devon McAvay, 17, used to be timid and unsure of herself. But that all changed four years ago, after she joined the United States Naval Sea Cadet Corps Manatee Division in Yankeetown.
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For information about the Manatee Division of the United States Naval Sea Cadet Corps, contact Lt. Junior Grade Todd Dunn at 212-5473 or email@example.com, or visit www.manateediv.org/ or www.seacadets.org/public/
“Before I joined, I didn’t have a good grasp of the person I was, I just kind of stayed in the background. But I learned to challenge myself and find what I’m good at, and now I handle stress well and am a stronger person than when I was 13,” she said.
Petty Officer First Class McAvay believes so strongly in her transformation that last summer during the annual two-week recruit training session in Belle Glade, she became a staff drill instructor and led more than 60 new recruits through drills in marching and saluting. She said the role was daunting at first, but she discovered she likes to teach and mentor.
“I don’t think of the Sea Cadets so much as military training, it’s more oriented to self-discovery and self-reliance,” she said. “I think the program has had more of an influence of who I’ve turned out to be, even more so than my school or friends. It’s turned me into the type of person who sees what needs to be done and gets things done.”
Lt. Junior Grade Todd Dunn, commanding officer of the Manatee Division, said that until six months ago there were more female cadets than males. Now there are nine females in the group of 24 cadets, with leadership positions still being held primarily by the girls.
“McAvay really showed leadership and did all the hard work to advance. The boys were left behind in the dust, but are now doing the coursework to get the job done. The girls were applying themselves more, stuck with it and set a good example, and the guys are starting to step up,” he said.
McAvay said while some of the physical training she has chosen to specialize in can be challenging, she has never seen any discrimination within the group.
“I’m taking classes on weapons and tactics, you know, typically guy stuff, in a very charged and stressful environment. Although the military is not the typical feminine environment, I want to be as strong as I can in as many ways as I can,” she said.
Public Information Officer Katasha Cornwell said cadets meet for drills once a month at the Coast Guard Station in Yankeetown. McAvay is the only one from Marion County; the others are from Hernando, Pasco, Levy, Citrus, Gilchrist and Alachua counties.
“Where we drill at is in a really cool area, but it’s not like it is just around the corner, and finding people with the gas money has been a problem because cadets have to be dropped off so it can be kind of expensive, but we would love to get a division started in Marion County,” Dunn said.
He said when the division formed five years ago, almost half the cadets were from Marion County, but became too old for the program, which is for ages 13 to 17. He said the division is one of about 20 throughout Florida, with the nearest in Clearwater, Jacksonville, Tallahassee and Orlando.
According to the United States Naval Sea Cadet Corps website, there are units in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, Guam and Puerto Rico. There also is a Navy League Cadet unit for those between ages 11 and 13.
Dunn said he was a Navy photographer for five years and wanted to be in the Navy since he was 5 years old. He said he would have loved being a Sea Cadet — if he had only known about it.
“We get phone calls all the time from people saying this is what they were looking for, but didn’t know existed. These are people who want to join the Coast Guard, Navy or get an ROTC scholarship, and are looking for something youth-oriented that deals with maritime services,” he said. “When they hear about the Sea Cadets, they just can’t join fast enough. We don’t try to force anybody to join, we are looking for those people who are looking for us.”
Dunn said after basic training and drills, cadets can specialize in advanced areas such as rescue swimming, aircraft engine repair, scuba, electronics, medical, firefighting, JAG legal, intelligence, marksmanship and construction, and much more, as well as specialty training with the International Sea Cadet Association.
The cadets recently trained in the Ocala National Forest, doing field training exercises with members of the Centurion Battalion. The exercises were planned by Navy SEALs.
“Although many of them enjoy just wearing the uniform and marching, typically there is a lifetime goal in mind for the cadets, it’s not just something fun to do on a weekend,” Dunn said.
Cadets also can receive a scholarship through the Reserve Officer’s Training Corps or be accepted into a better school. Dunn said entering the military with a Sea Cadet background could result in a higher pay grade, with a $4,000 bump in salary.
Although McAvay, a senior at Dunnellon High School, said there is no obligation or pressure to join the military after being a Sea Cadet, she is hoping to receive the ROTC scholarship to study pre-med or law enforcement, possibly specializing in forensics. She plans to spend four years in the Navy and enter the military with a higher ranking because of her time as a cadet.
“I’ve really loved the Sea Cadets. It’s one of the most fulfilling programs I’ve ever been involved with and I think the values they teach are things you can’t learn as a Boy or Girl Scout, or through sports at school. I just really wish more people knew about the program,” she said.
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