Kael Mazzola and Chandler Clarke, seniors at Yosemite High School, joined a rare group Wednesday morning as they were promoted to the rank of Cadet Lietuenant Colonel, a distinction currently held by only two other Cadet Corps members in California.
It’s the first time in more than 15 years a member of the Yosemite High Cadet Corps unit has earned the honor.
During a brief ceremony at the school, Principal Randy Seals pinned the rank on both young men, praising their hard work to become some of the top officers in the corps.
“There are currently only four Cadet Lieutenant Colonels in the entire state of California, out of 6,000 cadets,” Seals said. “And this year, Yosemite High School has two. We are very proud of both of them.”
Both Mazzola and Clarke plan to pursue military service after graduation. Clarke has applied for entrance to West Point, while Mazzola is working through the process of joining the U.S. Marine Corps to enter its intelligence division.
“Making major was a big milestone for me, but making lieutenant colonel with one of my best friends is another step above that, and a major milestone,” Mazzola said. “It’s an extrinsic award, but it means a lot to me intrinsically.”
Command Sgt. Major Dave Archer, who heads the Yosemite unit, described the two young men as “one percenters.”
“I’ve been doing this for 27 years, and over that time period, I’ve trained a lot of candidates,” Archer said. “These two guys are one percenters. Out of all the people I’ve trained, they’re definitely at the top.”
The two said they were proud of reaching such a high rank, but said for their fellow corps members, who they considered a family, it helped mean much more.
“I think we’ve got the highest concentration of cadets with red berets for any school,” Mazzola said, referencing those who finish Cadet Survival Corps training, where cadets spend 100 hours in the wilderness, armed only with a knife. “And now we’ve got the highest concentration of lieutenant colonels. I think that says a lot about our little 40-strong unit as it is.”
Both Mazzola and Clarke said they were motivated to serve in the military by their family. For Clarke, it was his great grandfather, who flew B-17 bomber planes in World War II.
“He definitely inspired me,” Clarke said. “And the Cadet Corps helped influence my decision, not a lot because that’s not what it’s designed to do, but it showed me that this is an atmosphere I really like ... we’re like a family. It’s helped a lot of people find comfort and come out of bad places in their life.”
Mazzola, with a smile, gave a much different story.
“My grandfather told my dad if he enlisted in the Marine Corps he’d shoot him in the foot,” Mazzola chuckled. “I decided if my dad wasn’t going to do that to me, if all goes well, I’ll be joining instead.”
Both Clarke and Mazzola serve state positions in the Cadet Corps. Clarke is Executive Officer, the third highest position in the corps and a sort of chief of staff, and Mazzola is Training and Operations Officer, the division’s fourth highest position that designs and plans training exercises for cadets. Mazzola is commander of the Yosemite unit, while Clarke serves as its deputy commander.