A group of 32 members of the Yosemite High School Cadet Corps embarked on a five-day trip to San Diego over spring break that took them to four military bases, a naval air station and the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, an experience that Cadet Corps teacher Capt. Ellen Peterson described as "the greatest kids on the greatest trip making the greatest memories."
The trip included an array of tours, checking out submarines, the USS Gridley -- a cruise missile destroyer surface ship -- hovercrafts, military aircraft, more surface ships, squadrons, Navy Seal training areas, and the Mechanized Equipment Museum at Camp Pendleton featuring vehicles and rolling stock dating back to World War I.
Cadets also did early morning physical training exercises each day, worked through a Marine Corps obstacle course, and watched a morning Colors Ceremony and recruit graduation parade.
To add to the military experience, they ate many of their meals at the Naval Amphibious Base, Coronado and lodged at a Navy inn on the Naval Air Station, North Island.
"It was the best field trip I have ever been on," said YHS cadet freshman Mike Vanbalinghem. "I never will forget."
The trip was the third YHS field trip to San Diego that Cadet Corps instructor Col. Bruce Derry arranged.
"Because of the contacts I have made over the years, this trip gave all personnel more access to the military than ever before," Col. Derry said. "For the first time, we were allowed to visit the Navy Seal pool and training enclosure, a black hawk helicopter squadron, and the hovercraft (LCAC) at Camp Pendleton. Also for the first time, the cadets were allowed to run the recruit obstacle course trained by two Marine Corps drill instructors on the Marine Corps Recruit Depot. It was a great experience for all cadets and chaperones."
Col. Derry said "tremendous contributions" from Oakhurst Sierra Sunrise Rotary and Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8743 enabled the costs for the trip to be manageable for all attendees, and that their donations helped many cadets who might not have been able to afford the trip on their own.
Many YHS cadets shared positive experiences about the trip.
"I particularly liked the morning colors ceremony (at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot). My dad was a Marine, so getting to see something like that -- you really felt that," said senior Steven Kaplanek, adding that he also enjoyed watching a group of Marines graduate later that day. "Someday, I hope to be on that deck graduating too."
The graduation ceremony was also a special experience for YHS sophomore Jacob Champion, who was surprised with a promotion from cadet corporal to cadet sergeant during the ceremony. His brother Nathan, a Marine reservist, and his mother Linda pinned on his rank insignia.
For many, working through a Marine Corps obstacle course was a highlight.
"I like how everyone pushed themselves in their own, unique way," said freshman Anthony Wright said of the obstacle course. "I learned that being a Marine can be fun, but in order for it to be fun, you have to work very hard."
"Even when you just wanted to quit, you couldn't, because there was always someone motivating you to keep going," said freshman Hannah Morrison.
"The obstacle course was when I saw the most teamwork -- people helping and supporting each other," said junior Nathan Williams.
Sophomore Ryan Diehl said, "the best and most amazing part of the trip was everybody being and acting like a family and getting to know everybody so much better."
"Throughout the four years I've been in the Cadet Corps, I've found the Cadet Corps to be a good family environment," said senior Adrian Baker. "We look out for each other in school. I've gained a lot of maturity through my time in the Cadet Corps, before, I couldn't sit still. It's definitely taught discipline and patience."