Temperatures were already hovering around 90 degrees by mid-morning Saturday, but that didn’t stop a group of U.S. Naval Sea Cadets from engaging in maneuvers at Hogan-Ennis Park adjacent to the city’s Community Center.
Cadets, from both Modesto and Stockton Divisions, gathered in person for the first time since the pandemic hit in mid-March.
Escalon resident Nicholas Millard serves as Commander of the Modesto unit, operating out of the California Army National Guard Armory. Lieutenant JG Millard said the Modesto unit is known as the Night Stalkers and they met up with the Stockton unit on Saturday for some training.
“It’s for those from 10-years-old to graduating high school and it is sponsored by the US Navy,” he said of the Sea Cadet program.
Those ages 10 to 13 are what they call the Navy Leaguers while the older participants are the Sea Cadets; they work to achieve rank, they work to learn leadership skills.
Youths involved also gain some basic military values and knowledge, have fundraising opportunities, engage in community service and more.
“Everything from helping out the elderly, working with the VFW and American Legion, we’ve down walks for Alzheimer’s and breast cancer research,” Millard explained.
With a background in law enforcement, Millard has lived in Escalon for 13 years. He said the adult staffers and advisors for the Sea Cadet program include several military and retired military, law enforcement and retired law enforcement personnel, firefighters, doctors and more.
One of the benefits, Millard said, is that those taking part in the Sea Cadets can learn about the various professions in addition to the military training.
“Last year we had a sports doctor (adult advisor) and we were able to get all the kids certified in CPR,” Millard said.
The group has continued to meet virtually during the pandemic but, with personal protective equipment and social distancing protocols in place, Millard said they took the opportunity to gather Saturday in the park. It was good to have the cadets catch up with each other and also perform some drills, he said, though attendance was lower than normal in light of the pandemic. The Modesto unit currently has 27 cadets, ranging in age from 10 to 17.
Among them is Ben Millard, a junior at Escalon High School this year, who is also active in cross country, golf and FFA.
He got involved with the Naval Sea Cadets Corps six years ago.
“I want to be a pilot for the Navy and I did some research, found this program,” Ben said. “I’ve been in since I was the youngest kid there.”
He said his participation has enabled him to travel for conferences and training, to Washington, Nevada and more.
“I’ve been able to meet some extraordinary people,” he said. “My plan is to go to college after high school, also apply for the U.S. Naval Academy, with the help of my (school) counselors and this program.”
Ideally, he would like to start a Sea Cadets club for EHS but said those plans have been put on hold right now as students are involved in distance learning as opposed to being on the campus.
The younger Millard is a Petty Officer First Class and was among the leaders of the group on Saturday.
“It builds you up as a person,” Ben said of what he feels can be gained from the program. “You learn life skills, it makes you a better person and leadership is a key part of our program.”
The EHS junior added that he was glad to meet with his fellow cadets this past weekend, having the chance to see them face to face for the first time in several months. That, he said, can also be seen as a learning opportunity.
“It’s very interesting, we have to adapt to what’s going on,” he said of living through a pandemic. “We’re trying the best we can and even though COVID is going on, we have to get through these things.”
Stockton unit Chief Petty Officer Joshua Ward is in his junior year at Lincoln High School and was there with several members of his unit on Saturday.
“I enjoy the leadership aspect,” he said. “You become a professional leader who cares about his subordinates and you learn to make quick decisions. This is teaching me to work on a team; you are put with cadets and you work toward a common goal.”
Those interested in learning more about the program can contact Lt. Nicholas Millard at Nmillard@seacadets.org.