By Elizabeth Sias
Commitment. Honor. Leadership. Respect.
These are just some of the traits Navy Sea Cadets learn through their drills and coursework.
The youth program has been in the Cambridge area for a year and go by the name Polaris Battalion.
Open to boys and girls ages 11 to 17, the cadets — or leaguers for those age 11 to 13 — drill once a month at the Armed Forces Reserve in Cambridge.
Before that, new recruits attend a two-week boot camp in the summer, where they’ll be taught how to take care of uniforms, military customs and courtesies and more.
“That’s where the discipline starts,” said Leon Berg, Polaris Battalion’s Commanding Officer. He said the Naval Sea Cadet Corps program was established in 1958 at the request of the Department of the Navy. “Everything the cadets do for coursework is what the Navy actually does. We train them together when they’re at drill, so they’re practicing and learning from older cadets.”
As a military program, the kids do the same kind of training military enlistees do, but their mission is different, Berg said.
“We teach these kids honor, commitment, self-respect,” he explained. “We give them an idea of what the military life is like so they can make a decision — if military is what they want to do, they will have an idea of what they’ll be getting into once they enlist.”
During boot camp, recruits will learn how to work with others. Once they’ve graduated, they can go on to other summer training all over the country. The cadets can choose whichever training fits their interests, from field training, heavy equipment training, medical training, music school, culinary, aviation, officer training, and more.
Cadets are encouraged to attend one training each summer, and some find time to do two or three, Berg said. They usually run 10 to 14 days, and depending on where it’s located, the cadets will sleep at a base in the barracks, or out on the field in tents.
“They get the real military experience,” he said. “The trainings are put on by the military, either active duty or retired military personnel.”
Berg said he got started with the program a couple years ago because his son Torrance is a cadet. A few other Cambridge-Isanti students were part of the Blaine Sea Cadets, but once more kids became interested, Berg decided to start a battalion in Cambridge and became Commanding Officer. Polaris Battalion has been in Cambridge since February 2011, and Berg said they’re always looking for new recruits.
The group meets once a month and drills out of the Armory in Cambridge for full eight-hour days on a Saturday and Sunday.
Drills can vary, but Berg said his unit likes to do field operations and maneuvers. They also have physical training, practice Color Guard routines, and they recently started working with drill rifles to practice rifle routines. They’re also constantly refreshing their memories on uniform upkeep, as well as military customs and courtesies.
All of the cadets have a different reason for joining the program, Berg explained. Some are into field operations, where they go out into the woods doing maneuvers, while some are technical and into computers and sonar, he said.
“We have a wide variety, so I’ll try to bring in people from the outside—active or prior military—so they can talk to these cadets and tell them what their experiences were and what they liked and disliked to give them a good idea,” Berg said. “Not very often do you have a cadet change their mind. It’s a good reinforcer, but it’s also good for a cadet to have the pros and cons. They’re just engulfed in what these people have to say and tell them. They’re always wanting more than I can give them.”
If a cadet finishes boot camp, achieves the rank of E3, and then enlists in the Army, Navy, Marines or Coast Guard, they’ll get a pay grade raise, but Berg said cadets are not required to enlist.
“The biggest thing they learn is the leadership skills. They learn how to take charge of themselves,” Berg said. “If one of their leaders isn’t there, somebody can always step up and take control. They learn those skills and that’s not something everybody is born with.”
The Sea Cadets is funded by a first-year registration fee and a yearly renewal fee, and the Polaris Battalion is always looking for new fundraising ideas or donations. This year, the leaders took part in the Polar Plunge on Forest Lake after the cadets set and exceeded their fundraising goal.
Kristina Albright, whose son Tony is a cadet, volunteers with the program and said the benefits are numerous.
“I think it’s important because it teaches our youth respect, responsibility, courage, commitment and honor,” she said. “It gives them a sense of pride and accomplishment.”
For more information on the Naval Sea Cadet Corps, visit www.seacadets.org. To contact Polaris Battalion, search for them on Facebook or e-mail [email protected] or [email protected] or [email protected]