VINTON — Most children are taking advantage of these last few days of summer vacation by sleeping in, swimming, or playing video games.
But the youth gathered this past weekend at the VFW Post 9854 in Vinton were focused on an entirely different set of objectives. The Louisiana Army Explorers, children 12 years old (or those entering sixth grade) through 18, camped out at the VFW to learn the ways of camouflage and concealment, decoys, and light and noise discipline.
Though at first glance these skills may not seem necessary for navigating the upcoming school year, participants in the program say they are useful on a daily basis.
Cadet 1st Sgt. Cole Molitor, a polite and serious 13-year-old, is the highest ranking enlisted cadet with the company. He has been with the Explorers for four years. Molitor said the discipline the program instills has carried over into his regular life.
“Skills I learn in here I use outside,” he said. “Like how to keep everything clean.” He said he’ll also be prepared to feed himself if he is stranded in the wilderness for an extended period of time. “If we do ever go out into the woods, I know survival skills,” he said. “We have a survival drill during the year and we learned how to kill animals, skin, clean, and … eat them.”
Cadet 2nd Lt. Trevor Neal, 15, will attend school at Sulphur High School 9th Grade Campus this year. He’s been an Explorer since he was 10. Neal said he really enjoyed Cadet Drill Sergeant School. The school, and program overall, has assisted him in better getting along with others. “I’ve developed more respect for other people,” he said.
Both Neal and Molitor say they plan to enlist in the U.S. Army when they are of age.
LAE Commander Chad LeJune said the program is modeled after the Louisiana National Guard.
The cadets must attend one drill weekend a month and a nine-day boot camp at Camp Beauregard in Pineville every summer. All exercise regimens are tailored for age.
“We do everything the way the Army would do it,” said LeJune. That includes learning how to march, use radio equipment, basic first aid, customs and courtesies, as well as whom, when and how to salute. The LAE is also required, by law, to teach sexual harassment and bullying prevention techniques.
LeJune’s Company consists of 16 members — 14 boys and two new cadets, both girls. “Out motto is ‘Training Future Leaders,” he said. The 501C3 non profit doesn’t make future military service a requirement for participation. But for those youth interested in serving, the skills they are learning now will give them a leg up when they do join.
The LAE keeps a service data sheet on each member outlining everything in which a cadet has taken part, and any promotions. LeJune said these sheets are submitted to the military when a cadet enlists. “That way they don’t have to enter as an E-1, all the way down at the bottom,” he said. “It helps out pay-wise.”
The LAE is run by volunteers from all walks of life. The staff consists of police and fire personnel, a psychologist, an attorney, and other professionals. Once a cadet turns 18, they are eligible to stay on and become part of the adult staff.
For more information visit laarmyexplorers.org.