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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, June 25, 2001

Summer academy makes leaders out of students

By William Cole
Military Affairs Writer

After college, 15-year-old Daniel Nguyen hopes to receive a commission as a U.S. Marine Corps officer.

JROTC students Rudy Hutson, bottom, Dustin Madden and Sean Zuhike, top, practice capsizing their boat in an attempt to right it in exercises in Pearl Harbor.

Cory Lum • The Honolulu Advertiser

On Wednesday, that career plan was off to a more humble start: While wringing wet, Nguyen managed a fairly graceful return to a 19-foot sailboat capsized off Rainbow Marina in Pearl Harbor as part of a training exercise involving select Junior ROTC cadets.

"It was quick and fast," said the Radford High School junior when he was back on dry land. "You've got to just react quickly and get all the sailors back in the boat."

Righting the craft requires teamwork, and that's one of the things the annual Hawai'i Leadership Academy is all about.

"This is just one program to give (cadets) an opportunity to demonstrate some leadership skills, and obviously, teamwork is a big part of leadership," said retired Navy Lt. Cmdr. Hank Van Oss, the officer in charge.

Ninety-four Junior ROTC cadets from 28 high schools in Hawai'i, Japan, Guam, Alaska, California, Nevada and Illinois were selected to take part in the 10th Hawai'i Leadership Academy, one of six such programs offered each year around the country.

The academy started June 18. For two weeks the cadets live aboard a four-deck berthing barge moored at Pearl Harbor's sub base, rising at 5 a.m. for almost 12-hour days, assuming roles such as platoon leader and squad leader, and practicing sailing, water survival, orienteering, military drills and physical fitness skills.

High schools send their top cadets to the academy, Van Oss said. The first leadership school was started in 1992 by retired Marine Lt. Col. Ron Eisel, a former naval science instructor at Radford High School.

"The kids that are here will go back and be entrusted many times with 25 to 50 students (in Junior ROTC programs), and they will be responsible for guiding those students, so it's a big trust," said Van Oss, who also is a Navy Junior ROTC instructor at Kalaheo High School in Kailua.

Whether the cadets go on to military careers or some other field, they're usually focused on their future, said program spokeswoman Julie G. Masuda, a retired Navy master chief petty officer.

Her top assistant instructor — a cadet who returns to the program to offer assistance — was "just stoked" when the group visited the USS Port Royal, a Navy cruiser in Pearl Harbor, Masuda said.

"That's his goal — to be a commander of a Navy vessel," she said. "That's the kind of focus you get from these kids. They know what they want."

Of the 94 cadets in this year's academy, 30 are from O'ahu and the Big Island. The program is sponsored by the Navy, but incorporates members of other services, including Marines, who serve as drill instructors.

For all the cadets, the experience is a ratcheting up of the Junior ROTC program they experience in school, and one closer to the environment they will encounter if they decide to go into the military.

"The drill instructors — they are always on us, making us do this and that, but they are teaching me more discipline," said 17-year-old Losivale Faaiu of Kalihi, a battalion commander with Farrington High School's Army Junior ROTC program.

Nguyen, one of the first to go through the sailboat capsizing drill last week, said the sailing program, which also includes knot-tying and rigging and derigging the boats, was one of the early highlights. The cadets focus on sailing for eight hours over a four-day period, culminating with a sailing competition involving the four platoons.

The Salt Lake teen said he's taking part in the program because he likes challenges, wants to keep busy this summer and wants to learn skills that he can take back to his Navy Junior ROTC unit at Radford, where he will be a battalion master chief next year.

But the academy also will help him as he looks ahead to a military career, he said.

"I'll be able to use this — the discipline — later in life," he said.