It was a summer camp unlike most summer camps. About 20 high school and home schooled teens from Windham and other lake region towns chose to participate in a week long program involving strenuous physical training, demanding drills and obedience to adult superiors.
For six days and nights in mid-July, Alpha Co. 1st Battalion, 3rd Army Cadets trained in tents and open fields learning the value of teamwork, setting goals and committing 100 percent toward their achievement. The cadets, ages 14 to 17 years old, are part of a school sanctioned program lead by Windham High School science teacher and U.S. Army First Sergeant Dan Wirtz. They meet several times a month through the school year for classes, drills and training exercises. Wirtz explained that the summer training week is a requirement of the Joint Military Cadets of America
“(It’s) a great team building and training exercise…an introduction to the daily life of soldiers, sailors, airmen, coast guardsmen and Marines.”
The highly visible encampment was located on Windham Center Road near the access road to the ball fields. Tents and Maine Army National Guard vehicles occupied the site, which was formerly known as the Strout property.
The cadets have been a tight unit since May of 2015 when the group was formed. During at least three visits made during the training week, cadets were observed working together as one, constantly engaged in supportive roles, and collaborating through assigned tasks with purpose and concentration.
During the course of the week the cadets engaged in numerous, formidable activities such as land navigation using map, compass and GPS; fitness training; marching (including a six mile hike with gear); medical training involving the application of tourniquets, CPR, responding to trauma, buddy-carrying and other evacuation techniques; combat formations that train cadets on engaging hostiles and breaching/clearing rooms; and finally, a field trip to the Gardiner National Guard Training Center to complete their annual qualification on the M-16 rifle and M-9 pistol.
The youthful participants were quick to point out, “We’re not just about drill, and this is not grown-up soldier games.”
Wirtz said, “This is not for everybody,” adding that several participants had dropped out since the program’s inception.
Asked about his interest in the cadet program, Windham High School senior James Mannette, 17, said there is military history in his family and “I’ve always looked up to veterans. I thought this would be a good way to get a taste (of that life) to see if I would like it.”
Last June Mannette was selected as one of 600 seniors nationwide out of 2,000 applicants to attend a summer seminar at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.
“It sealed the deal for me,” he said, “And I’m lovin’ this week. It’s giving me awesome insight on the basics, and it’s so cool to get away with this group as brothers and sisters. Cadets can be an inspiration for the greater good.”
Mannette’s comments were echoed by fellow WHS senior Jordan Nelson, 16, “(This experience) promotes self-discipline and integrity. It’s not kids playing Army. It’s about brotherhood and camaraderie. It takes more than one to make a mission.”
Mannette has set his sights on the Air Force Academy. Nelson said he looks forward to a future in the military, followed by college and the police academy.
Wirtz credits the Maine Army National Guard, the school system and parents with contributing to the success of the summer session. He said two National Guard recruiters, SFC Gardner and SSG Pernal, were phenomenal teachers and leaders.
According to Gardner, “This is the test, the crucible for more intense training. These kids have stepped up.” And he noted that the cadets seemed to have absorbed a great deal from their year under Wirtz. He also observed how the older students were acting as mentors to the newer cadets.
“Even if they don’t join (the military),” continued Gardner, “the discipline and respect they’ve learned will carry into their life.”
For example, he said, “If I call mess at 1300 hours (meal time at 1 p.m.), and they’re not there, give me push-ups. It’s about consequences.”
Breakfast and lunch at the encampment required little preparation. No cooking. Instead, a MRE (Meal Ready to Eat), which is a field ration consumed by servicemen and women that has a full day of calories, is eaten. The evening meal was a bit more palatable for most of the cadets. Wirtz explained that parents would deliver a home cooked dinner, and that Amato’s and KFC in Windham stepped up as well.
Asked to reflect on the week, Wirtz said he felt the cadets learned a lot about themselves, dug deep, and discovered they could accomplish more than they ever thought they could. Overall, “…the week was an event that will stick with the cadets for the rest of their lives.”
DSCN2025 C/PVT Katelyn Walker and C/PVT Brianna Spaulding
DSCN2029 C/PV2 Nick Nimblett
DSCN2030 C/CPL Zach Willson (Seated) C/PV2 Nick Nimblett (putting camo facepaint on C/CPL Willson C/PVT Braden Black (behind) DSCN 2031 C/PFC James Mannette DSCN 2032 C/PVT Braden Black