There is a program that gives local youth many chances to serve their community in a variety of ways, but it may not be very well known.
Commissioned in 1989, the Thomas Jefferson Division of the Sea Cadets celebrated their 30th anniversary Sunday during ceremonies at the Missouri National Guard's Ike Skelton Training Facility. The U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corps is in its 61st year after being formed in 1958. It's a congressionally-chartered youth organization for students ages 10-18. It promotes interest and skill in nautical disciplines, while instilling strong moral character and life skills through technical training and leadership experience.
Sea cadets receive training from more than just Naval officers. U.S. Marines and Coast Guard members also contribute to the training.
In addition to attending training exercises once a month, sea cadets are involved in behind-the-scenes community service. Some of the services the sea cadets perform include cleaning the fairgrounds after the Cole County Fair, picking up trash on adopted stretches of highway and presenting the colors for local events.
Some are drawn to the hope of a future career in some branch of the military. Others seek the structure and predictability. What they find through the Sea Cadets is a place to grow in responsibility, reliability and friendship.
That's what Dolyn Eichholz found. He was among the cadets who received various awards and promotions during Sunday's ceremonies. Eichholz was given a medal by the Veterans of Foreign Wars and now the 18-year-old cadet from Wardsville is leaving the program after three-and-a-half years to join the U.S. Army Airborne Infantry.
"Discipline and respect were the biggest things I learned while with the cadets," Eichholz said. "Anybody who is interested in the military or even if you're not sure whether you think the military is in your future, I'd say it's worth joining. It's an honor to serve."
In a typical weekend, they arrive in time for work detail at 8 a.m., followed by classroom lessons such as basic seamanship and shipboard damage control. After lunch, the cadets might do hands-on training, such as the splint and litter carry process.
Often they have a guest speaker. Then they bunk overnight in Missouri National Guard billets.
The cadets are up with "Reveille" at 6 a.m. for physical fitness. After breakfast, local retired U.S. Marines lead the cadets in march and drill techniques.
The youth benefit from the collective knowledge of adults with a variety of military backgrounds and personal experiences to share.
Between drill weekends, the cadets study toward new ranks and tasks, which they can be recognized for with decoration for their uniforms.
They also have the opportunity to attend week-long, advanced specialty drills. Special training opportunities allow cadets to explore particular military jobs to see what they may or may not like. Training in other interests is also available such as photojournalism and culinary arts.
After the cadets were recognized at Sunday's ceremonies, James Denning, former commanding officer of the cadets, received his promotion from Lieutenant to lieutenant commander, the highest rank achievable in the Navy Sea Cadets by an adult volunteer. Denning has been in the cadet program for 15 years — all in the Thomas Jefferson Division.
"You see in this program, young people who are trying to make this country better for the future instead of cause trouble in the present," Denning told those gathered at Sunday's ceremony. "I have seen tremendous progress in young people going through the Sea Cadets and onto the military and college. We have a graduate who went onto the Air Force and is now a jet fighter pilot. It's wonderful because if you look at the news you don't have a lot of hope in the future, but I see these young people and the parents who support them and I believe the United States has a bright future."