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Knox County Teens Excel in Naval Sea Cadet Program

 By Echo Menges 

Four Knox County teenagers entered the U.S. Navy Sea Cadet program this year. Over the summer, three have completed required recruit training (RT) and they are excited to continue the program with plans to enter the Navy after graduating high school at the Knox County R-1 School District. 

Sisters Emma Fagin, 15, and Gracie Fagin, 14, were looking for an ROTC like program to prepare for the military. With the help of their dad, Navy veteran David Fagin, the pair joined the Sea Cadets. They were joined by one of their best friends Keely Love, 15, and schoolmate Alekah Wilson, 11, soon after. 

“We wanted to do an ROTC program but our school doesn’t have one. We looked around for a program and found the Sea Cadet program through the Navy,” said Gracie Fagin. 

“I’m retired from the Navy,” said David Fagin. “Emma and Gracie began the program in January of this year. The girls’ best friend Keely joined just a couple of months later in March.” 

Alekah Wilson, daughter of Army veteran Angela (Parrish) Wilson, also caught the Sea Cadet bug on the urging of her mother. Alekah was the youngest member from Knox County to join just one month after Keely – in April. 

The Fagin sisters began attending drill weekends once a month at the military training base in Jefferson City beginning in February. Keely started the following month. The trio started two-day and three-day training weekends together, which they enjoyed, leading up to their summer RT. 

The three older members of the group quickly learned they were expected to attend RT this summer, which is required for all incoming Sea Cadets ages 13 to high school graduation. 

Wilson, the youngest, will be eligible to attend RT the summer of 2025. She is already attending drill weekends with the three older Sea Cadets. 

“We knew it would be a commitment but we didn’t know how much of a commitment it would be,” said Emma Fagin. 

The ladies agreed the training was grueling, intense, intimidating, terrifying, and exciting. 

“It was unbelievable to see they broke them down in the first day or two, and rebuilt them into Naval Sea Cadets,” said David. 

“Especially after RT, my confidence is through the roof,” said Keely Love. 

“It forces you to come out of your shell,” said Emma. 

The Sea Cadet RT was a two-week boot-camp style training at Ft. Leonard Wood, MO. The teens stayed in the Army barracks and trained alongside military personnel at the base. Army Basic Training recruits were also on the base during the Sea Cadet RT. 

“We could see them running and stuff when we were,” said Gracie. 

“The obstacle course. It was so fun. I was building my confidence,” said Keely. “The repelling tower. I almost cried at the top. I blinked a lot. I told myself I’m not going to cry with all these military people here. I’m scared of heights. I quickly got over that. I wish I could go back and do it again. It was so fun.” 

“My favorite part was getting to know everyone there – all the recruits. I love getting to know everyone and making connections. I’m really blessed I got to experience that. There were people from Texas, Arizona, one kid from New York, Boston. They were from all over the place,” said Gracie. 

“We were split into two companies Bravo and Alpha,” said Gracie. 

“Your bunk mate is your best buddy,” said Keely. 

“My favorite part was water survival. I have to say that was the funnest day of them all. You get your basic second-class swimming certification,” said Emma. 

“We learned the dead man’s float. You have to do that for five minutes,” said Keely. 

“I liked the part where you turn pants into a flotation device,” said Emma. 

The three agreed the hardest part was PT, which stands for physical training. Every day of RT they started their PT at 5:15 a.m. practicing to shorten their time running a mile, increasing the number of push-ups they can do, and holding a plank position. 

The ladies were expected to perform physically and mentally. They also took classes during their time at RT and were required to pass a written exam on general military knowledge. 

“Everything they did was spot on and a condensed basic training. Their drill instructors were Marine Corps drill instructors,” said David. 

“We got pushed more than the boys did,” said Gracie. 

“They’ve gone from Seaman Apprentice Temporary to Seaman Apprentice,” said David. “They are also doing online training. They are not getting school credit for participating but this will give them an edge on entering the Navy after their graduations.” 

During the last school year and through the summer the Sea Cadets did several community service projects at the Knox County Clothes Closet and the Knox County Food Cupboard. 

Entering the new school year, the Sea Cadets are excited to continue with the Sea Cadet program. Once RT is complete they have the chance to complete other types of training during their summer breaks, and they will continue monthly training exercises throughout the year. 

“I think people mistake it as a punishment. It’s not,” said Emma. 

“If you act out, you will get kicked out. It’s an honor to be there,” said Keely. 

“Everyone there I met really wanted to be there. I really worked for it. I pushed myself to my limits,” said Gracie. “Worth it.” 

About the 2023 Fort Leonard Wood Sea Cadet Recruit Training 

The objective of Recruit Training is to produce Cadets who have embraced our core values and legacy. They should be the epitome of personal character, selflessness and military virtue. 

Every Cadet should leave Fort Leonard Wood with a mastery of the areas of discipline, character development, military bearing, and espirit de corps. 

Recruit Training is inherently stressful for the young men and women who come to Fort Leonard Wood. They will face a demanding change in lifestyle and acculturation to a military routine. This training environment has proven to be effective for generations of Cadets. 

Cadets who are shaped by their experiences and rigorous training are instilled with the traits to make them better citizens and prepared for the challenges of life. Recruit Training must remain demanding, formal, and challenging in order to achieve the desired end state. These Cadets must be instilled with the discipline to obey orders, respect authority, and uphold our core values. 

Cadets will also participate in some of the same events / qualifications that United States Military recruits still do today. With most of our Staff being Active Duty Marine Instructors, Navy Corpsman, or former military, these Cadets will get some of the best training they have ever received. 

Cadets can expect to participate in obstacle courses, team building course, rappel tower, confidence course, rifle qualification, swimming qualification, and so much more.