By Scott A. Thornbloom, Naval Service Training Command Public Affairs
GREAT LAKES (NNS) -- More than 140 Navy Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (NJROTC) cadets sailed through the annual NJROTC Area 3 Leadership Academy here June 18-24.
They also rubber rafted, patched pipes, plotted courses and learned how to step up as the next leaders of their units.
"I'd like to think of the leadership academy as 'Top Gun' where we get the top two or three cadets from each unit in Area 3 and they go back to their units and help to make them better," said retired Navy Cmdr. Jerry Egler, the senior naval science instructor (NSI) at Proviso West High School, Hillside, Ill., and the lead organizer for this year's academy.
The annual academy was hosted by Naval Service Training Command (NSTC), headquartered at Great Lakes, and run by NJROTC's Area 3, which encompasses eight states in the Midwest.
Egler said the cadets embrace the training of leadership week and are energetic when they return to their communities.
"They're all fired up when they get home and are excited about what they learn here," Egler said.
They were presented with 23 leadership traits that they learned and discussed with the other cadets in assigned groups, or platoons. They were also introduced to more technical shipboard tasks, such as plotting contacts or navigating a course on computers at the Operations Specialist/Quartermaster (OS/QM) "A" School at Training Support Center (TSC).
"It was interesting to see and have the hands-on experience of operating the same type of computers used on board ships," said Cadet Petty Officer 1st Class Kiara Kilpatrick, 16, a junior from North Chicago (Ill.) High School. "It was especially awesome to meet and talk with the admiral (Rear Adm. David F. Steindl). It was neat that he cared to be there and meet with us."
Steindl, the commander of Naval Service Training Command (NSTC) headquartered here, oversees more than 600 NJROTC units worldwide. NJROTC is a citizenship development program that instills service to the United States, personal responsibility and a sense of accomplishment in students in United States secondary educational institutions. Steindl observed sailing and rubber raft evolutions during the week.
"What we try to stress here is the whole concept of professionalism and teamwork," said retired Navy Cmdr. Michael O'Connor, NSI at Jefferson High School, Monroe, Mich. "What I like to see is quiet professionalism. The boats that go out don't make a big deal. They do their job; every one pays attention and works together as a team."
Teamwork comes in handy when the rafts have to paddle out to Lake Michigan in the Great Lakes Marina and then tipped over, or "broached," to clear out excessive amounts of water in the bottom of the craft. Teamwork is also a big part of sailing during turning movements as the boats tack and jibe.
"That's why quiet professionalism is so important and why everyone needs to know their job and only listen to the instructions from the coxswain, or leader of the boat," said O'Connor, who has been a rubber raft instructor for 17 years and part of the leadership academy for eight years.
"The sailing was my favorite part of the week and it was a lot of fun," Cadet Lt. Paola Sarmiento, 17, a senior from Proviso West, said. "I learned that you really have to listen and work together as a team."
The cadets represented 55 high schools and units from Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia and Texas.
Twin brothers Cadet Lt. Matthew Jones and Cadet Ensign Michael Jones, both 17 from Princeton High School in Cincinnati, said getting to know the other cadets from across the country was beneficial in networking and gathering different ideas.
"This academy as well as NJROTC has really helped me mature and gain confidence and has opened up doors for me to continue to college," Michael Jones said.
Both of them also added they hoped the things they had learned and leadership traits they now possess will help them go back to their school and build a stronger and cohesive NJROTC unit.
"We're going to be able to bring back better ways to structure our unit, how to better run our unit and be able to move the unit up in the rankings of Area 3 and the nation," Matthew Jones said.
During the week, the cadets split up into multiple platoons and participated in events such as physical training, uniform and room inspections and a drill competition. There were also classes in basic seamanship, a crash course in damage control at the Damage Control "A" School Wet Trainer and the computer plotting and tracking time in the OS/QM "A" School. Of course, there were also the extensive lessons in sailing and maneuvering rubber rafts as a team around the Marina on Lake Michigan, which is the only NJROTC academy that has 100 percent participation of the cadets completing the sailing curriculum.
The one new class of instruction at this year's academy was Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, or STEM.
"I think we were hoping to open the students' eyes to the possibility of learning in a different way and maybe be able to go to the STEM camps at the different universities (Purdue, Embry-Riddle, Sand Diego State, etc.) around the country," said retired Cmdr. Robert Laufenberg, NSI at Simeon Career Academy in Chicago.
For their STEM projects, the cadets learned how to construct a flashlight and circuit tester using wires and switches and other household items found in a junk drawer as conductors and insulators.
"We hoped to use the STEM project to get the cadets more interested in STEM subjects and wet their appetites on how it can be fun to be involved in science and math subjects," Laufenberg said. "However, our main interest here at the leadership academy is to make the cadets better leaders."
Cadet Senior Chief Petty Officer Kang Bang, 17, a senior from Harding High School in St. Paul, Minn., called the STEM project another opportunity to build team work and camaraderie with the other cadets attending the academy.
"Just like the sailing, damage control or sports day, STEM allowed us to work as a team and build on our camaraderie as a unit here," Bang said. "The whole week also provided a chance for the six cadets that came from Harding to become tighter and better prepared to lead our unit this school year."
The cadets ended the week with a graduation ceremony during which they received a silver shoulder cord to wear on their uniforms, signifying completion of the leadership academy.