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Sea Cadets Test Waters

Boynton Middle School: Monadnock Squadron of teens talks about opportunities, training available

  • Chief Petty Officer Zachary Letourneau of Dublin speaks to Boynton Middle School students about the Monadnock Squadron of the Navy Sea Cadet Corps during an assembly Monday afternoon. In the back, Patrick Laroche of Peterborough, left, and Ben Graves and Nicholas Graves, both of Dublin, act as a color guard.
  • Matt Keating, 16, left, Jackson Whitehouse, 17 and Dominic Walshe, 16, all of New Ipswich carefully measure an arms-length distance between each other while preparing to give a presentation to Boynton Middle School Students on Monday afternoon.
  • Jim Letourneau, who has served as the Monadnock Squadron's Commander for the last several years, speaks to middle school students about the Navy Sea Cadet Corps.

At Boynton Middle School in New Ipswich, a line of men in uniform stand tall and straight, flags at the ready. They practice marching in time in a tight circle. On the other side of the gym, other cadets line up, touching each other’s shoulders with outstretched fingertips and standing at parade rest. Though they move with military precision, these are not military personnel. They are teenagers — members of the Monadnock Squadron of the Navy Sea Cadet Corps.

Several cadets of the 42-member corps, along with their former commander, Jim Letourneau of Dublin, spoke to the Boynton students about their participation in the program, and the opportunities it offers.

Letourneau has been involved with the Navy Sea Cadets for more than five years now. It all started, he said in a phone interview Wednesday, when his son, Zachary, became interested in the program. At the time, there was no Peterborough chapter, and Letourneau found himself driving his son, and eventually a posse of his friends, back and forth to Concord constantly. But there was enough interest in the local area to branch off and start their own chapter, said Letourneau, and that’s eventually exactly what happened. Letourneau has been an active participant as a parent for five years, and served as the group’s commander for the last three.

Now, with Letourneau retiring from his position as Dublin’s police chief and making a move out of state to take up a new position as a ranch manager in Montana, the torch has been passed to Jane Laroche of Peterborough. The group held a formal ceremony where Laroche took up the post on Nov. 16.

The Naval Sea Cadet Corps is for teenagers, ages of 13 to 17, who are interested in learning more about life in the Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard and Merchant Marines. They wear Navy uniforms, hold regular drill sessions, earn merit promotions, and participate in trainings. There is also a Navy League Cadet Corps for ages 11 to 13, which drills along with older cadets, but has its own program to prepare younger children for the Sea Cadets. The Monadnock group meets every third weekend at the South Meadow School in Peterborough for a classroom and practical drill.

Each cadet is required to participate in a Navy Sea Cadet Corps Recruit Training, which is a scaled-down, two-week version of the Navy’s boot camp. They are instructed for two weeks in military drill and discipline, physical fitness, seamanship, shipboard safety, first aid and naval history. After their basic training is done, they can then participate in more advanced training in any number of fields, from firefighting, photojournalism and culinary arts to explosive ordnance disposal training and mine warfare operations.

“If I had to sum it up in one word, it would be the opportunities,” said Cadet Jackson Whitehouse, 17, of New Ipswich, referring to the best thing about the program, in an interview prior to the assembly. “I’ve been on two active duty bases. You don’t get the opportunity every day. You’re able to go to these trainings and live in that military atmosphere, where you live in the barracks and go to their mess halls. Without this program, that’s an experience that not everyone would be able to get. You’re not able to just waltz onto a military base and live there for a week or two. It’s not an opportunity that arises for everyone.”

And since Whitehouse said he plans to enlist in the military after high school, it was an especially important experience for him, he said. “I definitely think the Sea Cadets has helped reassure me that this is something I’m going to be able to enjoy and make a career out of. It’s really solidified a yearn to go into the military that I’ve always had.”

Also planning to enlist are two of Whitehouse’s fellow New Ipswich Cadets, Dominic Walshe, 16, and Matt Keating, 16.

Walshe, who plans to join the Marine Corps, has been involved with the Sea Cadets since 2009, and has put in training for marksmanship, weapons qualifications, master of arms and military police officers in anticipation of that goal. It gives him an automatic leg up, he said. “You come in with that experience that other people off the street just don’t come in with,” Walshe noted.

Keating, who was inspired to pursue a career in the Coast Guard by his grandfather, who served in the Navy during the Korean War, said it’s not just trainings that the Sea Cadets offer. A lot of the core traits that are valuable in any job field are all taught by the program, he said, including responsibility, integrity and team building.

Zachary Letourneau, who has earned the rank of chief petty officer, agreed, saying that he hopes to be an Army reserve officer, but ultimately would like to pursue a career in law enforcement. He took part in as many trainings as he could, in a wide variety, he said. Everything from petty officer training, to learning about the legal aspects of the Navy and spending a week on a submarine. “These are all amazing opportunities that I got to partake in, that I wouldn’t have even grasp the idea of, if I didn’t have Sea Cadets.”

It’s not a requirement that Sea Cadets enroll in the armed forces, but those that do may be eligible to enlist at an advanced paygrade, and participation is a plus in the eyes of selection boards for military academies. For those who want to pursue higher education, scholarships are available to them.

The main point of demonstrations like the one at Boynton Middle School on Monday is to show kids out there that this is an option, said Letourneau. “We let them tell the kids what it is to be a Sea Cadet. From the kids to the kids, it has more impact,” said Letourneau. “The idea is to teach leadership, and give them opportunities to be leaders in their own peer group, and introduce them to facets of military life. They get a sense of belonging and what it is to be part of a unit and understanding structure.”

Laroche, who recently took over the commander position, agreed that building confidence is the key objective of the program. “They build a level of self-confidence that not a lot of middle and high schoolers have,” she said in an interview Monday. “That’s really what it is. The training opportunities, which are huge, are just a bonus.”

“I have seen kids come in unsure of themselves, and going through the program, or spending a summer at a boot camp, they have so much more confidence,” said Letourneau. “Whether they decide to go into the service or not, they have a better direction and a little less fear. And that’s rewarding. That’s our paycheck.”

The Peterborough chapter of the Sea Cadets is an independent regional program that serves children and teens from the Monadnock region. For more information, seewww.monadnocksquadron.org.

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