Saint Louis area Navy JROTC and Naval Sea Cadets are headed to the National Flight Academy in Florida

St. Louis students headed to Florida for taste of Navy life

David Le has already gotten a small taste of military life.

David is a student at Cleveland NJROTC Academy at Southwest High School in St. Louis, and he recently learned how to use a rifle and operate military vehicles in a simulation during a leadership camp.

But this week, the 15-year-old will experience Navy life around the clock at the National Flight Academy in Pensacola, Fla., along with about four dozen other St. Louis-area students. This is the first time students from St. Louis will participate in the program, which will simulate life on board an aircraft carrier, and David says he is eager.

“I’m considering being a pilot of planes, so I’m anxious to experience the flight simulators. It will be interesting to see what the day-to-day schedule for a pilot is like,” he said. “Within the Navy there are so many options, and this will give me the opportunity to explore those options.”

More than 100 students from all over the country will live in a virtual aircraft carrier for the week at the National Flight Academy, and 48 will be from the St. Louis area. This “carrier” is in a building near the National Naval Aviation Museum at Pensacola.

St. Louis students will be attending the program for the first time with the help of the Navy League, a national military association founded in 1902. The St. Louis council sponsors local youth programs and promotes student involvement in local Navy and Marine Corps Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps and ROTC units.

Tim Raines, vice president of youth programs for the St. Louis council of the Navy League, said the National Flight Academy wants more youth from the Midwest. Local league members and community backers arranged 48 scholarships and a charter bus to send the group of students from St. Louis.

All students on the trip were recommended by high school faculty. Raines said the selection process was difficult because the average NJROTC unit boasts more than 330 members.

“Good grades and a good academic standing are requirements,” said Raines. “Participants must have demonstrated leadership and the core values of the Navy. We also look for individuals that are college-bound, particularly those with interest in the Navy.”

Taking part are 22 students from Junior ROTC programs at Cleveland, 14 from the program in Riverview Gardens High School, two from NJROTC Washington High School and 10 from the Navy League’s Naval Sea Cadet unit.

Students left Saturday for the weeklong program. The students will learn about aviation-inspired science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Students study those things in school, but the academy will help them see how to apply those things in real life, Raines said.

Topics to be covered during the week include aerodynamics, propulsion, navigation, communications, flight physiology and meteorology. Students are divided into groups of 12. Every day they will participate in on-site mission simulations aligned to the National Common Core Standards for Math and Science.

“One of the missions is an air race,” said Shelly Ragdale, National Flights Academy public relations director. “Each group will have to navigate across the country to different points. Students will have to be mindful of longitude/latitude, speed, gas, weather conditions and how they’ll get to each point in a timely fashion.”

Ragdale said students will debrief each day and discuss what they learned, how they can apply what they’ve learned to real life and how they can improve next time.

Luciana Hendozka, another student from Cleveland attending the program, said it will give her a look at the life her father wanted for himself.

“My dad was in the pursuit of being in the Navy, but he wasn’t able to finish boot camp because of medical issues,” said Luciana, 15, who will be a junior in the Cleveland NJROTC program. “He has inspired me to want to experience and learn about the Navy.”

The week will end with a graduation ceremony.

Raines said the Navy League would like to get more sponsors and open the program to as many as 108 cadets in the future. The cost per student is about $1,250, not including transportation, he said.

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