Bremerton, Washington. Long before the first call of “Let’s Make a Deal!”, Sea Cadets from the Keyport-based USS SCORPION Squadron were at the Bremerton Elks Lodge setting-up tables and helping turn the Lodge’s main hall into a maze of game shows and display booths for military families to enjoy. They also staffed the check-in table, distributed forms, helped families move from one game to the next, and helped clean-up and stow tables after the event. The Military Game Show Party was hosted by the Ranger and Northwest Military newspapers, and insurer USAA.
Fourteen of the Squadron’s 30 or so members were able to attend the November 5th training event, which afforded the Cadets another excellent opportunity to provide visible support to the local community. But it wasn’t always that way.
Cadet Micah Wheeler, a Kingston High Sophomore, who has been with the Squadron for over three years, was quick to highlight the changes he has seen. “Once we got our new officers, they were able to get the word out there, get us into more events, and make us more public. It showed a lot more people that we were here…and here to help.”
The greater public exposure and emphasis on community service has paid-off for the Squadron, formerly known as the “Kitsap Battalion.” In just under three years, they have grown their enrollment from a low of eight active Cadets to a high of 28. The impressive growth has been achieved through primarily word of mouth–one happy Cadet or parent telling their friends–and being more visible to the community.
The U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corps, or USNSCC, is a federally-chartered non-profit youth development program for ages eleven through the completion of high school. The USNSCC strives to further the image of maritime services by adhering to a standardized training program designed to develop an interest and ability in seamanship and seagoing skills; instill virtues of good citizenship and strong moral principles in each cadet; demonstrate the value of an alcohol-free, drug-free and gang-free lifestyle; and expose cadets to the prestige of public service and a variety of career paths through hands-on training with our nation’s armed services.
The unit’s Commanding Officer is Riley Dunn, a Coast Guard Chief Gunner’s Mate stationed at the Maritime Force Protection Unit on Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor. Prior to assuming command in February 2015, he was the Squadron’s Training Officer, responsible for developing, coordinating and executing the training events during bi-monthly drill weekends.
“They needed someone to revive the drill periods. When we joined several years ago, we would just take the kids out on their own somewhere to do war games or something purely military like that. With my connections in the community, I felt I was better able to get the kids out doing more fun and diverse things like this [Military Game Show Party], and still learn.”
Dunn’s strategy has been to combine training events with community outreach. Recent training venues for the local Sea Cadets have included participation and support of Keyport Fest, Brownsville Appreciation Days, Kitsap County Veteran’s Day Program; Armed Forces Day Parade and Gala, Memorial Day Ceremony, USS WILL ROGERS (SSBN 659) Reunion, Naval Base Kitsap Ombudsman Dinner, U.S. Coast Guard Douglas Munro Memorial held in Cle Elum, WA, and even an Eagle Scout ceremony held aboard the USS TURNER JOY.
Dunn says he is motivated by teaching and enjoys teaching the young Cadets as they grow. “I am a certified firearms instructor for the Coast Guard and something like this goes hand-in-hand with that. I like teaching the kids what I know and, hopefully, how to be successful.”
For the Dunn clan, the USS SCORPION Squadron is a family adventure. Dunn’s wife, Sue, is the current Administrative Officer. She became involved shortly after their daughter, Megan, joined in May 2014, but couldn’t go on a trip with the unit because there were no female adult chaperones. Sue volunteered to chaperone the trip, and hasn’t looked back since. The strong leadership and teamwork displayed and fostered by the Squadron’s officers was a recurring theme among the Cadets.
Donald Sims, a Cadet from Port Orchard, directly attributes the Squadron’s success to the leadership team. “Admin & CO, Admin & CO; they do their jobs so very well. They go out of their way for each of us. For example, I’m kind of a hard person, at 6-3, to find a Sea Cadet uniform for. But they worked hard to help me find three sets! I’m really grateful; the way they work together and help the unit is phenomenal.”
USNSCC is sponsored by the Navy League of the United States (NLUS) and supported by both the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard. The NLUS Bremerton/Olympic Peninsula Council sponsors the USS SCORPION Squadron, and a few Board Members were also on hand at the Military Game Show Party Event with the Cadets.
Jack James, a retired Navy Seal Commander, former Sea Cadet himself, and Bremerton/Olympic Peninsula Council Board Member, is the NLUS Liaison to the USS SCORPION Squadron. He is also impressed by the rapid growth and expansion of activities enjoyed by the Squadron.
“Riley and Sue Dunn are great role models for the Sea Cadet organization. Riley, being an active duty Chief [Petty Officer in the Coast Guard], really helps keep the unit organized and on track with goals and training schedules. I cannot help but to think, that people looking for an organization for their children to be engaged in, really appreciate that.”
Wheeler, who aspires to attend the DigiPen Institute of Technology in Redmond, WA, reflected on what being a Sea Cadet has taught him. “[It] definitely taught me a lot about courage, honor, and commitment and how to stick to my moral values in life. It teaches me a lot of life lessons other than military, and will help me keep my options open in the future.”
James further clarified the advantage being a Sea Cadet bring. “The Sea Cadets are closely associated with the military, specifically the sea services, and the Sea Cadets set a young person on the right track with Basic Military Requirements (BMRs). The discipline, training, and mentoring alongside real active duty personnel speaks volumes. Whether a young person decides to join the military or not, does not matter that when they are done with the program. But they will be more successful in life, because of the experience they had.”
The strong performance of the Squadron has not been lost to the Sea Cadets national organization. Stan Mack, Sea Cadet Pacific Northwest Region National Headquarters Representative, is quick to praise the Squadron’s leadership for their success.
“The principal factor in unit growth is adult leadership. The staff and cadets know what is going on, the rules are consistent, and the cadets are progressing through the program as it is designed. The Dunns also have impact outside of their own unit. Both Riley and Sue have been Commanding Officer of Training Contingents to offer one and two week training opportunities [during] both winter and summer school breaks open to Sea Cadets from anywhere in the country. I like working with Riley and Sue because they are enthusiastic and proactive. They are always coming up with new ideas and the cadets are their first priority”
Mack also emphasized that, “The SCORPION Squadron won first place last year in Flagship, a regional competition with other Sea Cadet units. This is a clear indication that the unit is being well trained and highly motivated. This is the kind of organization that attracts people. Our best recruiters are our cadets. If they are happy and having fun, they will bring their friends.”
Cadet Megan Dunn, a Central Kitsap High School junior and the Squadron’s Leading Petty Officer (LPO), plans to join the Coast Guard after graduation. She has helped bring-in at least six new members to the Squadron, but clearly recognizes getting them in the door is only the start of what it takes to maintain a solid membership base. “All of us are always pushing to get new people into the Squadron, but when we get new members, we work hard to help them succeed and enjoy what they’re doing.”
James’ own experience illustrates an extreme case of the type of head start Dunn may enjoy upon entering the Coast Guard. “My experience with the Sea Cadets as compare to other youth organizations is unique. Because of my time in the Sea Cadets, I joined the Navy as an E-3, and my very first event was Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL Training (BUD/S)–No Boot Camp! Even though I was only eighteen, the Recruiter handled me like I was ‘prior service.’ I got my uniforms issued at Treasure Island, CA, and reported straight to BUD/S. I attribute my graduation from BUD/S, making E-6, and later gaining my commission as an Officer, to the BMRs the Sea Cadet program equipped me with.”
More information about the Sea Cadets organization can be found at http://www.seacadets.org/. The USS SCORPION Squadron’s web site, which also contains information about how to join or contribute, is http://usnsccscorpionsq.weebly.com/about-the-uss-scorpion.html.
Founded in 1902 with the encouragement of President Theodore Roosevelt, the NLUS is a civilian organization supporting the US Navy, Coast Guard, Marine Corps and U.S.-Flagged Merchant Marine. It is a worldwide organization with 46,000 members in more than 250 councils, including more than 700 corporate and community affiliate members. The three main objectives of the NLUS are to educate national leaders and public about the vital importance of a capable and fully prepared Sea Services, to support the men and women of the sea services and their families, and to advocate maintenance of a strong U.S. industrial base to secure America’s future.
Through its world-wide adoption program, the NLUS directly supports over 250 ships, 280 land-based military command, and 730 youth groups. More information about the NLUS and local chapters, as well as information about how to join the NLUS, can be found at https://bremolympicnlus.wordpress.com.