He's more than 1,000 miles from the ocean, but Ben Gallentine is part of a Twin Cities program that exposes young people to America's sea-base military services.
Gallentine is a member of the U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corps, which uses monthly meetings, weekend drills, boot camp and, yes, oceangoing experiences to teach teens about the Navy, Coast Guard and merchant marine services. It also helps them develop citizenship and leadership skills.
"I just came back from field medicine [training] in Florida," Gallentine said recently.
He and other cadets also recently rode in a UH-60 helicopter.
"I think it's important for people to try out what they want to do, before they go and do it," he said.
Gallentine, entering his senior year at Minnetonka High School, will advance to cadet petty officer in the program and is under contract to become an Air Force pararescue jumper.
Jacqueline LeVvintre recently graduated from the program with top honors as the highest-ranking cadet — chief petty officer — and obtained a Navy ROTC scholarship, for a Marine option, at the University of Southern California. She started the junior program at age 10, influenced by her father, who was an instructor in the Cadet Corps for 21 years.
"You learn discipline and learn to be a team player," LeVvintre said. "I supersede the standards even though I am a girl. [I] never gave up."
About 115 teens are involved in five Sea Cadet units in the Twin Cities, Cambridge and Duluth (much of the Minnesota training takes place on the Great Lakes).
"The majority of cadets that come in, they tell me either they want to be pilots or SEALs," said Lt. (j.g.) Allyson McCormack, one of the parent-volunteer instructors in the program. "No one knows anything else."
But they learn about both military and civilian options.
Cadets can choose summer training that includes science and technology, construction, robotics and various ranks, such as petty officer and recruit training.
"We have cadets who quit before boot camp, while in boot camp, and along the way," McCormack said. "It is sort of like a filtering process. Some graduate from high school and never join the military. And those that want to join get a good taste from it."
The corps motto is "test your limits," she said.
Military recruiting is not part of the program. Police officers, firefighters and emergency medical technicians have been invited to teach. And there's even culinary training.
The cost for the cadets can amount to several hundred dollars, including uniforms, admission fees and training expenses.
The program is sponsored nationally by the nonprofit Navy League of the United States in cooperation with the Navy.
War "is not the focus of the program," McCormack said. "It is to produce good citizens and future leaders."
Nevertheless, military comradeship is part of it — not fighting just for self or country, McCormack said, quoting a line from the movie "2 Guns": "You fight for the guy that's fighting next to you."