U.S. Naval Sea Cadets
By Meredith Jean Morris

“What did you do during summer vacation?”

This popular first day of school question gets an unorthodox reply from Jarod Anderson.

“How many kids can say they saw a C-130, got to go on a tank, or had culinary training?” the 18-year-old George Jenkins High School student says. “Most other kids think it’s pretty cool.”

Anderson is the chief petty officer in the U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corps for the Marvin Shields Seabee Battalion. And, most summers, he attends a one- or two-week training on a military base, where he learns about aviation, firefighting, photojournalism, ceremonial honor guard, submarines, scuba diving, and more.

The Sea Cadets are a federally chartered nonprofit civilian training organization for youth ages 10 through 17, sponsored by the Navy League of the United States and supported by the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard.

When Anderson was 11, he joined the Sun Coast Squadron in Clearwater, after learning about the Sea Cadets at a McDill Air Force Show.

“We found out about the Sea Cadets at the booth set up at the show,” says Anderson’s mother, Jennifer Anderson.

“We would drive over once a month to the Coast Guard base for the trainings. My youngest was 3, so I didn’t sign up to be involved at the time.”

In the seven years since Jarod started in the Sea Cadets, Jennifer Anderson says there have been a lot of changes.

“My sister, Jessica, started a small unit at Auburndale High School and grew it,” Jennifer Anderson says. “Then Jessica moved to Lakeland and worked on growing the group there up to 20 kids. When my youngest was old enough to sign up, I decided, ‘I’m going to sign up, too.’”

Jennifer Anderson started as the personnel officer for the group.

“I would do recruiting,” she says. “I’d go to events to set up pamphlets and talk to people about the cadets. Now, I’m the training officer. So, I set up drills and decide what we do each month. Each month it’s something different. One month will be fun, the next will be more classwork or business work.”

The events cover a wide range of activities to prepare the cadets for careers in and out of the military.

“We learned about marksmanship, and went to the gun range,” Jennifer Anderson says of a recent activity. “We had an expert, a certified sharp-shooter lead the instruction.”

The cadets meet one weekend each month at the Lakeland Police Department training facility for training in the field and in the classroom, but there are also other opportunities for involvement.

“It’s good because only once a month is mandatory, but you can do as much as you want,” says Christie Henderson, whose son, Carlos Sancen Henderson, 14, is a Sea Cadet. “There are voluntary things about six to eight times a month. My son has earned 97 community service hours just from Sea Cadet activities.”

Henderson says the Sea Cadets program was recommended to her by her son’s Jewett Academy Middle School guidance counselor.

“At first, I was intimidated by the program because I don’t have any military background and no interest in the military,” she says. “I had thoughts about boot camps for bad kids, but it’s not that at all. It’s really all about learning to work in groups, and as a team, getting career opportunities, learning drills and training.”

Henderson says she’s seen a change in her son since he joined the Sea Cadets three years ago.

“I have seen him getting more mature, he’s relishing responsibilities and being a leader with the younger cadets,” she says. “He’s seeing how his behavior can affect others. He’s making friends with other kids his age and older than him who have goals, and he’s starting to develop goals, too. He says he wants to be a marine.”

While the Sea Cadets program grooms participants in the ways of the military, enlisting after completing the program is not required.

“They don’t have to enlist, but they have the option to enlist as E3 in the Navy, Coast Guard or Marines,” Jennifer Anderson says. “If you’re in JROTC at one of the high schools, you get to enter as E3, but only in the Army. Our program gives you three options.”

Even without plans to enlist, the Sea Cadets program offers opportunities for students that are transferrable to many careers.

Jarod Anderson is most proud of his scuba diving training.

“When I was 11, I got scuba certified and it changed my life,” he says.

The dive training has taken Jarod Anderson to great depths – literally.

“I have dived down to 100 feet in the ocean, I got to dive in the Epcot aquarium, I’ve been in some of the springs, Weeki Wachee, and I’ve dived to a shipwreck,” he says. “I’m advanced nitrox certified, so I can go deeper than you can with just regular oxygen.”

With plans to enlist in either the Coast Guard or the Navy, Jarod Anderson says he wants to be a rescue diver.

“If someone was considering joining (the Sea Cadets), I’d tell them whatever your interests, you can do them here,” he says. “You don’t have to enlist. Whatever you want to do, this program is going to make you look good.”

To learn more about the local Sea Cadet unit, called USNCC Marvin Shields Seabee Battalion, visit usnscc-msb.com.