When asked about their achievements, affiliations, or successes, pre-meds often discuss their research labs or volunteer works. However, my most memorable accomplishments were not attributed to pipetting or building homeless shelters. When asked about my successes and how I’ve become the person I am today, I recall my time in the Naval Sea Cadet Corp. The USNSCC is a US Navy sponsored organization which replicates the Navy in its traditions, organization, and professionalism. Twice a year, cadets attend a two-week long training on a military base, studying various skills ranging from Marine Martial Arts, Land Navigation, Forensics, and much more. Despite the vast opportunities for exciting trainings, there is one mandatory training which you must pass first – boot camp. Formally known as Recruit Orientation Training Command, this gruesome program instills military bearing, naval customs, and teamwork into every cadet which graduates at the end of the second week. Marching across the parade deck on graduation day of my boot camp commenced of some of the most exhilarating years of my life. Fast forward three years, I was promoted from a Seaman Recruit to Petty Officer Third Class and was able to staff the boot camp which I graduated from long ago.
Upon arrival at Camp Pendleton, I was assigned Echo Company, a unit of 30 recruits who had no knowledge of military discipline or etiquette. Each of the 7 companies composed of 4 staff cadets who were responsible for leading the growth of their recruits into qualified cadets. Within a few hours, I was already in distress. Our company appeared to have the worst prospective recruits. They could not march in step to a simple cadence, they moved around while at attention in formation, and they had stains and creases in their dress uniform. At nightfall, the staff cadets of Echo company decided to call it a day and that tomorrow would be a better day. Unfortunately, the next day, the other companies began to notice the incompetence of Echo’s recruits, making us the laughing stock of the battalion.
At the end of the first week, an unfortunate series of events occurred. Several recruits from other companies have been sent home due to failure to pass the PT test. Additionally, another recruit was ejected for lack of discipline. Worst of all was the fact that two staff cadets in Echo Company were booted as well – one for theft and the other for tobacco usage. This situation left my friend and I to manage the entire company by ourselves. We were now tasked with twice the work load, instructing additional classes, drilling facing movements for longer hours, and juggling several housekeeping chores. Amidst the added responsibility, we operated the company efficiently and started to notice improvements. There was less talking in formation. The barrack bunks were made with hospital corners. Recruits readily answered correctly when quizzed on naval history.
Echo company’s progress was clearly impressive as the battalion began to respect us throughout the second week. The day before graduation, each company competes in a Battalion Test to grade performance in a number of military aspects. For our written exam, our recruits finished early with plenty of time to prep for the following station. Then came uniform inspection, where lengthy ironing lessons paid off. Every single recruit looked sharp with their neckerchiefs squared away. Station after station, Echo company excelled and shined. Towards the end of the day, it was revealed that we earned second place, far from what we could’ve imagined during our first few days at boot camp. But before the day could end, bad news disrupted our celebration. My last staff cadet for Echo company was sent home for fraternization, leaving me alone to console 30 heartbroken recruits.
The following day, I reminded Echo company about all the challenges that we have overcame, the progress that we’ve made, and the importance of this day. Every single recruit in Echo company will earn the title of “cadet” today. I assembled my recruits in formation at the parade deck and stood right beside them. Each recruit stood tall and proud, with shined shoes glistening in the sun. “Forwaaard March” I commanded. In unison, every recruit’s left foot lifted forwards towards victory.
After committing 5 years with the Sea Cadets, my only regret is resigning once I began attending college. With only two weeks with my recruits, I was able to develop my leadership abilities radically and learn how to plan and manage tasks efficiently. Additionally, the lessons of pushing through the hardships and practice makes perfect remain invaluable until this day. Staffing boot camp was only one of six trainings I’ve attended. Even now, I still accredit my skills and success as a product of the Sea Cadets, and for that, I am forever thankful. As pre-meds, we often feel pressured to only pursue activities related to medicine, but in reality, we all have various interests outside of research and clinical work. Everyone has done something distinct or has a unique talent – that’s what makes us human after all.