by Christine Steele
Twelve soldiers have been camped out for seven days under the baking desert sun at Firebase Reazin. They were up all night Tuesday defending the perimeter. They are hot, tired, sick of eating MREs. They miss the comforts of home: a hot shower, a bowl of cereal, the television.
No, this isn’t Iraq or Afghanistan. It’s Southwestern New Mexico. No, these soldiers aren’t serving in the U.S. military. They are high school students enrolled at Bataan Military Academy in Albuquerque.
A Four Year Public High SchoolWhere
Students Enlist in Naval Sea Cadet Corps
Contrary to the popular myth of military schools being a well of troubled kids sent there by frustrated parents trying to straighten them out, these students all chose to attend the military-style school. For 10 days this summer, starting July 10, all 120 of them took over the National Guard base at Santa Clara, New Mexico, where they were doing their summer training.
The tuition-free public charter school was started three years ago by Lt. Shelby Tallchief. It’s a four-year high school where its students are also members of the U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corps, a 30,000-member organization worldwide. The school’s focus is on leadership and becoming good citizens, Tallchief said.
Three separate training exercises are going on during the group’s two weeks at the Armory in Santa Clara. Sixty-five students are first-year recruits. Twenty-seven are enrolled in the youth Navy organization’s Petty Officer Leadership Academy. Twelve are doing simulated combat training, with exercises taken right from the U.S. Navy SeaBee’s handbook.
Training is conducted by a mix of former and current military men and women.
Kids Like Camaraderie, Plan to Join Up
Petty Officer 2nd Class Steven Perez, 17, joined the school after overcrowding at his home school, Cibola High School in Albuquerque, left him wanting a different environment.
“As soon as I heard about it, I knew it was for me,” he said.
Of the group of 12 SeaBee cadets, all but three want to join the military when they graduate from high school. The summer experience gives them a taste of what that may be like.
“Everyone wanted to drop out at one time,” said 17-year-old Ben Rasmussen.
“But we’re a team,” Perez said. “These guys are my brothers right here.”
Some of the cadets said they found camaraderie through the training that they hadn’t experienced elsewhere.
There’s a certain kind of connection you get with people when you are out here shedding blood, sweat and tears with them,” said Donovan May.
It also gave them an appreciation for those who serve.
“When you are sitting in your hasty or building something you are thinking about the guys doing it for real,” said Jesse Rodriguez.
“It makes you appreciate other things too,” said Caleb MacKoy, whose nickname is Koy-fish.
Like television, a hot shower and a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch.
They are still boys, after all. Φ
Christine Steele writes for the Silver City Sun-News and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org 575.538.5893 ext. 5802.