Testing their limits

Thomas Hip­well (left), Mat­thew Fitz­sim­mons, Ian Wan­jek, Dari­us Sim­mons and Bri­an Com­isky are mem­bers of a United States Nav­al Sea Ca­det Corps at the Nav­al Sup­port Activ­ity base in Lawndale. TOM WAR­ING / TIMES PHOTO

Ian Wan­jek is a high school ju­ni­or who is look­ing for­ward to an ap­point­ment to the U.S. Nav­al Academy.

The 16-year-old is pre­par­ing for the ap­plic­a­tion pro­cess by build­ing a re­sume of strong aca­dem­ics and par­ti­cip­a­tion in sports and ini­ti­at­ing con­tact with the of­fice of Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick.

The teen­ager is also a mem­ber of the San Ant­o­nio Di­vi­sion of the United States Nav­al Sea Ca­det Corps, which is based at the Nav­al Sup­port Activ­ity base at Ox­ford and Rob­bins av­en­ues in Lawndale.

“I wanted to join to get a taste of the mil­it­ary,” said Wan­jek, who learned about the group from the Navy’s Web site. “It’s been fun. There are a lot of once-in-a-life­time op­por­tun­it­ies.”

The Nav­al Sea Ca­dets Corps was chartered by Con­gress in 1958 to provide Amer­ic­an youths with a drug- and al­co­hol-free en­vir­on­ment to foster their lead­er­ship abil­it­ies, broaden their ho­ri­zons through hands-on train­ing and guide them to be­com­ing ma­ture young adults. Fe­males were per­mit­ted to join in the 1970s.

There are about 480 di­vi­sions in the United States, in­clud­ing ones at the Phil­adelphia Nav­al Shipyard and at the Wil­low Grove Joint Re­serve Base. In all, there are some 9,700 ca­dets.

“It’s grow­ing every year,” said USNSCC En­sign Jay Meis­ner, the loc­al di­vi­sion’s train­ing of­ficer.

The loc­al di­vi­sion is named in hon­or of the San Ant­o­nio, a ship that has served as the base for Hur­ricane Kat­rina ef­forts and as part of anti-pir­acy forces off Somalia. Its motto is “Nev­er Re­treat, Nev­er Sur­render.”

The group’s ori­gin­al home was Crest-Lawn Amer­ic­an Le­gion Me­mori­al Post 832, at 301 E. God­frey Ave. in Cres­centville.

“They were such good hosts,” said USNSCC Lt. Joan Lar­kin, the di­vi­sion’s com­mand­ing of­ficer.

The corps is open to any Amer­ic­an age 11 to 17 who does not have a felony re­cord. Mem­bers are al­lowed to re­main through their high school gradu­ation. El­ev­en per­cent of Navy Mid­ship­men are former sea ca­dets.

Lar­kin has been in­volved with the corps for eight years, in­clud­ing sev­en with the Wil­low Grove-based Liberty Bell Squad­ron. Meis­ner is a former sea ca­det who en­joys stay­ing in­volved.

“It’s a way of giv­ing back,” he said.

The loc­al di­vi­sion began drilling at the NSA base in Au­gust. The group gets to­geth­er for one week­end a month for drilling and spe­cial events and trips. The young men marched in the re­cent Pu­laski Day Parade in Cen­ter City.

“It’s been out­stand­ing. We get to do dif­fer­ent activ­it­ies,” said Mat­thew Fitz­sim­mons, a 14-year-old from Chel­ten­ham who es­pe­cially en­joyed the trip to Nor­folk, Va.

Lar­kin and Meis­ner agree that ca­dets learn au­thor­ity, re­spons­ib­il­ity, time man­age­ment and lead­er­ship. They gain life ex­per­i­ences and make lifelong friends, and are en­cour­aged to be com­mit­ted to their edu­ca­tion.

“Their school­work comes first,” Meis­ner said.

Dur­ing an awards din­ner held re­cently at the Hy­att Re­gency hotel on Penn’s Land­ing, Wan­jek was honored with the Navy League of the United States Youth Medal and Rib­bon as the San Ant­o­nio Di­vi­sion’s Sea Ca­det of the Year.

A ca­det re­mains in good stand­ing through vari­ous ways, in­clud­ing at­tend­ance, in­spec­tions, les­sons and phys­ic­al train­ing. The Ca­det of the Year must dis­play ini­ti­at­ive, team­work and an ad­her­ence to mil­it­ary cus­toms and cour­tes­ies.

Last month, at the time of 10th-an­niversary re­mem­brances of the 9/11 ter­ror­ist at­tacks, Wan­jek and the oth­ers spent a week­end at An­drews Air Force Base in Mary­land.

“It was edu­ca­tion­al. We got to go to the In­ter­na­tion­al Spy Mu­seum, toured Air Force Two and saw Air Force One land,” said Thomas Hip­well, a 14-year-old from Chel­ten­ham.

“You only get to do it if you are in the sea ca­dets,” ad­ded Wan­jek, a stu­dent at Con­well-Egan High School.

Next month, the group will travel to Plum­stead Chris­ti­an High School to hon­or vet­er­ans with a flag-rais­ing ce­re­mony and a brunch. Mem­bers will also take a CPR cer­ti­fic­a­tion course.

In the early part of 2012, there will be Navy-geared trips to Nor­folk, home of the largest navy base in the world, and An­na­pol­is, Md., home of the U.S. Nav­al Academy

“They need ex­pos­ure to the mil­it­ary and how they do their jobs,” Lar­kin said.

Dari­us Sim­mons and Bri­an Com­isky, 14-year-olds from Mor­ris­ville, like the trips, train­ing, drills and fam­ily at­mo­sphere of the group.

“It’s been a lot of fun. It’s really cool. Like Wan­jek said, very few people get to do these kinds of things, es­pe­cially with their friends,” Com­isky said. ••

For more in­form­a­tion, con­tact USNSCC Lt. Joan F. Lar­kin at 267-261-5679 or jl_san­anto­nio@ve­r­i­zon.net or En­sign Jay Meis­ner at 215-771-6616 or jm_san­anto­nio@ve­r­i­zon.net, or vis­it san­anto­niod­iv.org

Re­port­er Tom War­ing can be reached at 215-354-3034 or twar­ing@bsmphilly.com

You can reach at twaring@bsmphilly.com.

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