During my less than illustrious time in the military (Vietnam vet, honorable discharges from the USMC and USAF), an old adage was often spoken. “If you work hard, Play hard.”
Ramona’s Navy Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (NJROTC) took those words literally.
The unit works hard. It has gone from almost being put into mothballs to being selected the country’s most improved unit to earning the fourth best unit in the states of California and Arizona. That was hard work, and it paid off.
They also play hard. During spring break this month, 35 cadets and 11 chaperones took an educational field trip to military installations. They visited Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps sites.
Since the Air Force base and station were at one time Army bases, and, since the cadets went on a boat that was in Coast Guard jurisdiction, one could say that they got a good taste of life in all of the major services.
Now the rub. It was all in the state of Hawaii on the island of Oahu.
The trip was a realistic taste of military life that included disappointments and setbacks. The deployment originally was scheduled to start on Saturday, April 4. The cadets met at Denny’s in Ramona at 0500 and had a hearty breakfast. They then carpooled to North Island Naval Air Station for what was scheduled as an 0900 takeoff.
Upon arriving, they got news that their flight was canceled due to mechanical difficulties. Their C130 was still on the ground at Andrews Air Force Base in Washington, D.C., so the unit headed back to Ramona, unsure if and when they would leave for Hawaii.
Lt. Cmdr. Mike Ernst was told that the flight would depart at 1300 on Sunday, April 5. After calling the cadets and chaperones, he was notified that the flight would not leave until Monday, April 6, at 0900. Hence 45 more phone calls.
On Monday morning, the unit and its Senior Naval Science Instructor (Ernst), Naval Science Instructor (CPO Bob Richardson), eight brave chaperones and the Ramona Sentinel’s roving reporter, yours truly, boarded a Navy C130 for our 50th state after leaving Ramona at 0430.
One must understand that a C130 is primarily a cargo transport aircraft. It is not a luxury airplane. Its seats are jump seats. Two to a seat with nets as a back rest. There are no movies, coffee, soft drinks or meals served.
One must wear foamies (foam rubber ear plugs) in one’s ears. It is nearly impossible to talk to a person six inches away. There is no climate control or thermostat. It is a truly military aircraft and flying on one is a military experience.
After a noisy nine-and-a-half-hour flight, Ramona’s NJROTC landed at Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii. The cadets and chaperones were greeted by the best tour guide on the islands, Mrs. Gerrie Richardson. Mrs. Richardson is CPO Richardson’s mom and the grandmother of cadets Loren and Alex Richardson. She became the official grandma of the Ramona NJROTC unit. Her sister and assistant, Mrs. Gwen Stockwell, also served the NJROTC unit well.
From there the chaperones went to get the rented vans and it was off to Waikiki and the Ocean Resort Hotel.
The chaperones also got a taste of military life, even though many were retired military or from a retired military family. Patty Andrews, Barry Betha, Debbie Dunlop, Mike Ellis, Laura Hietala, Tammy Huffman, Bob Robershaw and Rosalinda Stevenson actually slept with the cadets and stood guard duty in two-hour shifts every night.
On Monday night the unit attended a luau at Paradise Cove. Part of the entertainment was CPO Richardson and Cadet Breanna Stots demonstrating the hula for the entire luau.
Tuesday was an all Navy day. After chow the cadets got a tour of a working navy ship the USS Chosin, the War Dragon. From the Chosin, the cadets went to a Navy chow hall (The Silver Dolphin) for lunch. After lunch it was on to a tour of the USS Arizona in Pearl Harbor.
From the Arizona it was directly to the USS Missouri for another guided tour. The cadets got to see where World War II started and where the treaty was signed that ended the war.
Dinner was at the Silver Dolphin. Anybody who doesn’t think that Navy chow is good hasn’t eaten at a chow hall recently and definitely hasn’t eaten at the Silver Dolphin.
Wednesday was Tourist Day. After morning chow it was off to a swap meet at Aloha Stadium. After lunch it was back to Waikiki and a catamaran ride at 1300. The seas were just rough enough to get every passenger wet. The captain of the catamaran let the cadets take a swim in deep water. From the catamaran it was off to climb Diamond Head.
Diamond Head is probably the most recognizable natural landmark on Oahu and the most famous volcanic crater in the world. It is also a .8 mile hike, which leads to the 760 foot summit.
There are two sets of stairs that have 99 and 76 steps. There is also a 220-foot tunnel. Most of the cadets and chaperones were content to just hike, but some felt the need to run up the trail, two times, and do pushups and situps when they finished. They were joined by a Japanese tourist whose entire English vocabulary consisted of the words, “My name is Ninja.”
Thursday was Air Force Day. The unit spent most of the day at Bellows Air Force Station. It was a little windy, but the unit made maximum use of the recreational facilities of the station. They bodysurfed, rode boogie boards and ate lunch at the snack bar.
After departing Bellows AFB, the unit went to Pali Lookout for an excellent view of the windward side of the island.
The cadets had a choice for chow. The smart ones elected to eat Mongolian barbecue at the Officers Club at Hickam.
Friday was a busy and diversified day. The day started out on a somber and patriotic note at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, also known as the Punchbowl or Acres of Honor. Thousands of soldiers, sailors, marines and guardsmen are buried there.
There are also memorials for those men and women whose remains have not been recovered or are missing in action. I was fortunate enough to find the memorial of my cousin who was an MIA (missing in action) in Vietnam.
After the Punchbowl it was on to the Dole Plantation and the world’s biggest maze. It was amazing (sorry for the pun). From Dole it was on to Hale’iwa and the North Shore.
Hale’iwa is a small town with the world’s best Hawaiian shaved ice. It was also the start of the only really bad weather experienced on the trip. It poured. After the shaved ice and the deluge, we went to Wiamea Bay.
Upon entering Wiamea Bay, the cadets were greeted by some vocal harassment from some locals. They went right by the locals and past a sign that read, “Warning: Jumping/diving can cause serious bodily injury or death. Please stay off of the rock.”
The cadets ran past the sign and climbed the rock. It is a volcanic rock in the bay. It is about 25 feet high. The female cadets were the first to climb the rock and the first to jump off the rock.
The locals were impressed. They stopped harassing and climbed the rock to help the cadets and gave them safety tips such as when it is best to jump when the swells come in. A giant mud fight also took place and some bodysurfing.
Then it started raining again. The tour of the North Shore was continued, but the cadets had to view it through a downpour.
Saturday was supposed to be departure day but the flight home was delayed by 12 hours to Sunday morning, so the cadets had to spend an entire day on Waikiki Beach. Lt. Cmdr. Ernst had to scramble to get lodging and transportation to Hickam AFB, but logistics is his specialty.
On Sunday the cadets mustered in the hotel lobby at 0430 and took shuttle buses to Hickam AFB for another C130 ride home. The flight home was an hour shorter than the flight there, but just as noisy.
I have heard that hard work is its own reward. For the cadets of NJROTC RHS, Hawaii was their reward for their hard work. On the flight from Hawaii to reality, Lt. Cmdr. Ernst and CPO Richardson were already putting together ideas for next spring’s educational field trip.
“Washington, D.C., is a good place, but several of the cadets might have taken that trip with Olive Peirce Middle School,” said Ernst. “Orlando, Florida, has some great military installations and tourist attractions within driving distance. We will try to go back to Hawaii every other year if possible.
“Hopefully these trips will be a reward for the cadets that participate in our extracurricular activities and may help in our recruiting.”
Ramona’s NJROTC unit worked hard and then they played hard.