"Attention on deck!"
Some 25 people snap instantly to attention, backs straight, eyes forward, dressed in crisply creased uniforms. They could be naval personnel serving in the Persian Gulf, but they're not.These 25, ranging in age from 13 to 18, are Salt Lake area youth who are members of the Great Salt Lake Division of the Naval Sea Cadet Corps.
A naval officer pokes his head into the classroom, smiles and calls out, "As you were."
The class responds with a resounding, "Aye, aye sir!" and resumes its lesson.
What is the Naval Sea Cadet Corps? It's an organization formed in 1952 by the Department of the Navy to give interested young men and women an opportunity to taste naval military life without committing to active service. The Salt Lake chapter was formed in 1982 and is one of 200 currently operating throughout the United States.
The unit currently numbers 35, and the group's goal is to reach 80 cadets and to open additional chapters in Ogden and Provo. The Salt Lake unit meets at the Naval Marine Corps Recruiting Center at Fort Douglas on the fourth weekend (both Saturday and Sunday) of each month, from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
While cadets receive training in basic seamanship, patriotism, courage, discipline and self-reliance, the primary goal is to foster good citizenship and interest and appreciation of the nation's maritime services, including the Navy, Coast Guard, Marines and Merchant Marines.
The military emphasis is readily apparent as the cadets go through structured marching and physical fitness drills. They also receive instruction in first aid and personal hygiene. And, while attending weekend classes, they follow the same code of conduct as enlisted personnel, right down to the haircut and etiquette.
The cadets also wear the familiar Cracker Jack uniform emblazoned with the NSCC insignia.
And, hopefully, the cadets will have fun, says Lt. Dave Cooper, the executive officer in charge of the Salt Lake program.
"This isn't a military school; no one's here because their parents are making them," Cooper said. "Everyone here is in the program because they want to learn about the Navy, about ships, make friends and have a good time."
While Utah may be land-locked and without any major naval vessels for hands-on experience, the Marine Corps Center provides an acceptable substitute with its Shipboard Simulator. The simulator offers realistic simulations of all the vital areas of a ship including the bridge, navigation radar and engine room.
There is also a damage-control simulator that can be flooded or filled with smoke to re-create the hazards encountered during shipboard fires, flooding or a torpedo strike.
And cadets wanting a taste of real-life military living, can pay for the chance to experience real-life boot camp at the Naval Training Station in San Diego.
Those participating in NSCC are eligible to enter the Navy at a higher pay grade because of training and can receive assistance in applying to the U.S. Naval Academy.