About 30 excited Oklahoma teens and tweens –– along with several adults –– traveled in a caravan heading for Muskogee from Shawnee Friday, embarking on a weekend aboard a World War II submarine.

Note: An in-depth look at how a Naval program is teaching local teens to actively preserve war history while training them in countless leadership and organizational skills –– which will also give them the edge over their peers whether they choose a military career or not.

About 30 excited Oklahoma teens and tweens –– along with several adults –– traveled in a caravan heading for Muskogee from Shawnee Friday, embarking on a weekend aboard a World War II submarine.

The recipient of an annual makeover effort is the USS Batfish, and the workers belong to the U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corps (NSCC).

Donna Snodgrass, U.S. NSCC regional director for Oklahoma and Arkansas, said each year her group goes out for a weekend and does projects all over the ship.

One year we pulled up the wooden deck,” she said. “The next year we laid down the new deck, and third year we painted the deck and hull.”

Seminole Sophomore Jonathan Duarte said he has made the journey several times; he's been in the program five years.

Packed with his gear, he carried a priceless memento –– a block of the original decking from the highly-decorated war vessel. Duarte has been a part of removing and replacing the champion sub's deck during previous trips.

The website at warmemorialpark.org states the submarine and her crew were awarded 10 Bronze Star Medals, nine Battle Stars, four Silver Stars, one Navy Cross and one Presidential Unit Citation.

“Unseen and unheard while stalking its prey in World War II, the USS Batfish claimed over 14 kills, including a record-breaking three enemy submarines,” the site reads.

Over the weekend, this legendary warship is serving as a campground for the cadets.

“The kids love it because they can sleep onboard the sub,” Snodgrass said.

She said her cadets have been supporting the Batfish for about 10 years now.

“It's an exciting program. I have been involved in it for almost 30 years,” she said.

Snodgrass said both her children went through the program years ago.

“My son just retired from the Navy after 20 years and my daughter spent five years with 101st airborne,” she said. “I have assisted about 12 cadets over the years to get accepted into the Naval Academy –– we sent one to the Air Force Academy, one to the Maritime Academy and several have chosen ROTC programs at various universities.”

Snodgrass said NSCC is for youth ages 10 to 18 who are interested in the military.

The teens develop their skills in leadership, basic seamanship, courage, self-reliance, military discipline and are committed to being drug and gang free, according to the website at seacadets.org.

Cadets are instructed by naval personnel (active, reserve and retired), by senior Cadets and by adult volunteer leaders who comprise the NSCC Officer Corps, the site states.

“We train one weekend a month with the reservist at the Naval Operations Support Center (NOSC) in Oklahoma City,” Snodgrass said.

Snodgrass said there is no obligation by her cadets to join any branch of the service, though many do.

“I think we are averaging about 75 percent of our cadets joining some branch of the military,” Snodgrass said.

The Sea Cadets website states based on a survey of unit commanding officers regarding the plans of their unit's graduating seniors, in 2015 about 633 cadets expressed plans to enlist in some form of armed services, such as the Naval Academy, Coast Guard, Merchant Marines –– either state or national level –– and ROTC, among others.

“I have six cadets right now that attend Shawnee High School,” she said.

She also has a boy and a girl from Shawnee Middle School; she calls them Leaguers –– the Navy League Cadet Corps (NLCC) is the junior cadet program for the NSCC.

Snodgrass said she has youth from Shawnee, Bethel, Meeker, Mustang, Weatherford, Stuart, McAlister, Sparks, Oklahoma City, Moore and Seminole –– including some who are from private school or are homeschooled. They come from all over the state, she said.

“We just did the fair hoping to get more kids from the area involved,” she said. “I was in Tecumseh for Frontier Days doing more recruiting; we are trying to get some kids from Tecumseh involved.”

Snodgrass said the program has scholarship opportunities as well as academy opportunities.

The cadets take actual navy courses, so if they decide to join the Navy and they make the level of E3 in our program they can go into the Navy ranked at E3, which gives them about a year to a year and a half boost from the other recruits joining, she said –– not to mention about $500 to $600 extra dollars a month in their pay checks.

“At our drills the cadets do many things like classroom trainings, physical fitness trainings, drill –– which is marching –– and we are trying to build a rifle drill team right now,” she said.

The kids learn patriotism, leadership skills, organizational skills and so much more, she said.

The teens also go to training in the summer.

“The first summer they do a two-week boot camp –– this is where they learn the basics of the military-like drill, chain of command, making beds –– which most moms like –– taking care of uniforms etc.,” she said. “Once they complete that they are off to anything they are interested in. There are trainings that go on all summer long throughout the country –– medical training, band, legal, airman, flight training, etc.

“We have kids that go out to sea on Navy ships for two weeks, SEAL training and more,” she said.

Her cadets also do a lot of community service events, such as walking and raising funds for Family Promise, she said.

Shawnee Public Schools Superintendent Dr. April Grace said, “Any program like this has a tremendous positive impact on young people.”

According to youth.gov, mentoring is often one component of a program that involves other elements, such as tutoring or life skills training and coaching. The supportive, healthy relationships formed between mentors and mentees are both immediate and long-term and contribute to a host of benefits for mentors and mentees.

Benefits for youth:

• Increased high school graduation rates

• Lower high school dropout rates

• Healthier relationships and lifestyle choices

• Better attitude about school

• Higher college enrollment rates and higher educational aspirations

• Enhanced self-esteem and self-confidence

• Improved behavior, both at home and at school

• Stronger relationships with parents, teachers, and peers

• Improved interpersonal skills

• Decreased likelihood of initiating drug and alcohol use

You can reach Vicky O. Misa at (405) 214-3962.