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Sidewinder Sea Cadets from left to right: Samuel, Liam, Kadente, Leena, and Nathan stand at attention while wearing one of their uniforms. / Laura Austin Photo

US Naval Sea Cadet Corps ‘Sidewinders’ seeks new members

By LAURA QUEZADA News Review Staff Writer  Boys and girls from 10 years old to 18 years old are invited to learn about the Sidewinder Sea Cadets on Saturday, August 19, from 7 AM to 12 on the Base. This gives kids an opportunity to see if joining the Sea Cadets is a good fit for them. You must sign up for the event. Call Commanding Officer Chandler Putnam at 760-977-7243, email her at , or reach out via their Facebook page; Sidewinder Squadron- US Naval Sea Cadet Corps.

This event is part of their efforts to rebuild membership after the pandemic and losing Cadets who graduated from high school and aged out of the group. “I’ve been trying to recruit and make sure that the kids get to experience leadership, basic military skills, and life skills,” says Chandra. “We recruit throughout the whole year. We meet once a month here at China Lake on the Base.”

The day starts with physical fitness, breakfast, followed by a Back-to-Basics class which is in part how to properly wear a uniform. Then they march and have lunch. Current Cadets stay to swim for their afternoon activity. When it isn’t so hot, the afternoon activity can be a team-building sport. Then they get some free time to help develop camaraderie.

“It’s a basic military program. It’s very physical; kids are required to pass a physical fitness test every six months. They have to pass it or they can’t stay in leadership, or they can’t move up to leadership. They have to maintain a 2.0-grade point average to stay in Sea Cadets and a 2.5 to stay on Color Guard.” They are currently rebuilding their Color Guard team. When it is fully staffed, they offer their services throughout town. They hope to be able to start that again by the end of the year.

  The Cadets participate in training at military bases out of town. They have been to Camp San Luis Obispo, and Camp Pendleton, and “sometimes a boat will sponsor the Cadets to do their training there.” Since China Lake is a secure base, it cannot sponsor these events. While at training, the kids stay in separate barracks and get all of their meals at a chow hall. “Sea Cadets are required to attend training in order to rank up,” says Chandra.

There are several ranks: Seaman Recruit, Seaman Apprentice, Petty Officer third class, second class, first class, and then Chief Petty Officer. Chandra’s son, Nathan, is soon to advance to Chief Petty Officer. He tells us, “I started out in September of 2018. I had no idea what I was doing, but I worked hard, made friends with people, and then just kind of wandered around until I figured out exactly what I needed to do to get here.”

Nathan has a plan for the future after he graduates from Mesquite High School next year. “I want to get into being an EMT, do that kind of work, and then move up to Oregon and become a firefighter.” Through his involvement with the Cadets, he learned he could not go into the military because it would require his being off of his ADHD medications for a year first. He chose to become a firefighter “because I want to still help people out and do something that will change people’s lives.”

Chandra is from a military family and grew up in Washington State and Alaska. She married into the Coast Guard and moved to Louisiana. She moved to Ridgecrest in 2001, “My kids were born here and grew up here.  I found out about the Sea Cadets through one of my friends whose grandson was in it.” She put Nathan in the Sea Cadets when he was 12 and began volunteering. In February, she took over as Commanding Officer.

Nathan asked her to share why she put him in the Sea Cadets. “He wasn’t being a bad kid, he just wasn’t very focused. It’s really helped him.”

Leena is in Sea Cadets to prepare her for her longtime goal of joining the Marines. This is unfamiliar territory because her family consists of Navy and Army members. She doesn’t want to go into the Marines blind. She says of the Cadets, “It’s taught me that I can’t do certain things in the military. So it kind of narrows the point where I can go and that’s kind of good.” Due to height requirements, she can’t be in the Color Guard; due to vision requirements, she can’t fly. She plans on being a mechanic, “Turning wrenches.”

The Sidewinder Sea Cadets seem to be pretty good for the parent volunteers. Chandra has forged some very close, enduring friendships. The same goes for the kids. They get to meet and befriend other kids that have common interests but go to different schools.

In order to finance all of the activities and reduce the cost to parents, they do fundraisers. “We do three fundraisers: Easter, Mother’s Day, and Father’s Day. The parents donate all of the items for these big baskets. We sell tickets out front of Walmart, and they pretty much fund our whole thing.” They also receive donations. “The hospital donates a check usually each year, WACOM donates money. The Elks donate after the kids go and serve dinner there. In October, we’re going to be doing a garage sale/bake sale. The kids are going to show up in uniform and they’ll help load cars and sell baked goods.”

Right now, it costs $200 to join (prices go up to $220 in January). The fee covers about 95% of the uniform pieces and their dues.  Annual renewal fees are currently $120.

The Sidewinder Sea Cadets is a family affair for the Putnams. “My oldest daughter and my middle daughter are both instructors.” Her husband is an instructor. Perhaps this will be a good fit for your family.