By Melanie Patterson
The North Jefferson News
Stephen Duncan probably did not know that his enlistment in the U.S. Navy was going to inspire almost his whole family to join a version of the military.
But it did just that when the Hayden family traveled to Great Lakes, Ill., to see Duncan, now 24, graduate from boot camp.
“We saw kids in their dress whites when we went to Great Lakes,” said Karla Duncan. That was her family’s first exposure to the U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corps.
The Sea Cadets program is for children ages 14-17 and is one of the closest things to the military that kids can join.
Mark and Karla’s three youngest children — Seaman Apprentice Joshua Duncan, 16; Seaman Apprentice Micah Duncan, 14; and Apprentice Cadet AnnaMarie Duncan, 12 — all joined the Valor Division unit of the Sea Cadets in the past year.
The Valor Division, which recently moved from Leeds to Trussville, also includes Navy League Cadets for kids ages 11-13.
In August, the parents got involved by becoming instructors in the Valor Division. Mark is the unit’s public affairs specialist, while Karla handles supply.
Lt. JG Kenneth Youngblood is the commanding officer.
Mark Duncan said he decided to get involved partly because the unit needed help and also because he wanted to contribute.
“You wake up one day and realize you’re 46 and you wonder, ‘What have I done?’”, he said.
He and his wife believe wholeheartedly in the program. They say it has changed them and their kids for the better.
Their involvement has inspired Mark and Karla to lose a total of 53 pounds since August. The Sea Cadets enforce the same height and weight restrictions as the U.S. Navy, so the couple could not wear the Sea Cadets uniform until they met those standards.
As for the kids, the Duncans hardly recognize their children when the family goes to drill every month.
“They walk differently, they carry themselves differently,” Mark said. “When they’re in uniform, they’re so patriotic and eager to help. They just transform.”
The Duncans said the Sea Cadets is not for the faint of heart.
“It is just like being in the military,” Karla said. “If they forget part of their uniform, they do the push-ups, not their parents. They’re learning responsibility.”
The unit drills every month. Cadets learn marching and facing movements and military courtesy such as saluting.
They also have opportunities to earn awards, ribbons and advance their rank.
“They don’t hand them out like candy,” said Mark. “You really have to earn them.” The Duncan children have earned six ribbons each.
Cadets are required to live up to the unit motto of “Honor, Courage and Commitment.”
Cadets have numerous options to train with actual military units in fields such as SEAL training, scuba school, photojournalism, naval intelligence, marksmanship training, mine warfare ops, JAG legal training, aviation flight training and more.
Mark and Karla Duncan are thrilled with the way Sea Cadets is shaping their family.
“We love it,” said Karla. “This is one of the best things that has happened to our family.”
By Melanie Patterson
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