DUGWAY PROVING GROUND, Utah -- To 16 Naval Sea Cadets from around the nation, a tour of the Rapid Integration Acceptance Center was intriguing and perhaps a glimpse at their future career.
The teens, ages 14 to 18, who visited RIAC are the nation's first Sea Cadets to take advanced training on unmanned aircraft and their systems. Their studies are adapted from basic and advanced courses developed by Special Operations Command, a unified command with elements of the Army, Navy and Air Force.
Marc Russon, an engineer with L-3 Communications in Utah, is a volunteer education services officer for the Utah division of Sea Cadets. Russon adapted the SOCOM courses for Sea Cadets, emphasizing STEM: Science, Technology, Engineering, Math. The adapted course includes experiments in thrust, lift and drag, and exercises in navigation and mission planning.
The Sea Cadets were among 150 cadets attending two weeks' drill at the Naval Operational Support Center at Fort Douglas. Russon and Ensign April Cusumano of the Phoenix, Arizona division accompanied the cadets on their 105-mile visit to RIAC from Fort Douglas. The visitors came from New York, Massachusetts Florida, Oregon, California, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Virginia and Utah.
The Navy Sea Cadet Corps is sponsored by the Navy League of the United States, and supported by the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard. Cadets have no military obligation but they learn leadership, self-discipline, and are encouraged to pursue higher education.
A tenant unit on Dugway, RIAC is under the Army's Project Manager, Unmanned Aircraft Systems at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama. RIAC's mission is to test unmanned aircraft and systems for quick distribution to Warfighters. Unmanned military aircraft may carry missiles, relay communications, conduct surveillance, pinpoint targets or drop critical supplies to ground forces.
"Visiting the RIAC was an extraordinary experience for our Cadets and is clearly the highlight of their training," Russon later said. "Seeing the systems up-close that they have been studying transforms the material from abstract notions to concrete, real-world capabilities."
Cusumano, the other adult volunteer, had high praise for RIAC.
"Knowing our world, our country, can rest in safety due to the amazing minds of the drone creators and our military is the best feeling in the world!" she emailed. "Seeing everything that is put into a drone, in person, increases my respect tenfold."
Jennifer Gillum, director of RIAC, and Nate Critchlow, RIAC's senior test officer, began the cadets' tour with a briefing. "We always love talking to the young adults and helping them learn what they want to do," Gillum said. "I don't think the young fully realize how math and engineering contribute to national security, when you look at both programs we have out here, RIAC and Dugway's (chemical and biological defense) mission."
Critchlow spoke of unmanned aircraft using certain high-tech methods to detect improved explosive devices. "With the normal human eye you can't see these things," Critchlow said. "We're saving lots and lots of lives with that capability."
The Sea Cadets viewed Shadow, Gray Eagle and Warrior in hangars, where operators discussed each aircraft's specifications and capabilities. Cadets also spoke with operators in a control station, amazed at the array of screens and instruments both operators must monitor while flying unmanned aircraft.
Each of the Sea Cadets was presented with a certificate of participation, signed by Col. Courtney Cote, the Army's Project Manager for Unmanned Aircraft Systems. Col. Sean Kirschner, commander of Dugway Proving Ground, praised the Sea Cadets' patriotism, and urged them to get a good education, stay fit, maintain a moral compass and consider military enlistment.
Sea Cadet Brian Kadur, age 18, said he most enjoyed, "Seeing the aircraft, how they worked, their munitions, endurance and combat opportunities."
"It was the coolest thing I've been to," said Sea Cadet William Christianson Jr., 15, "Just seeing all the drones and how advanced the technology is."
Heather Clegg, RIAC Shadow operations lead, was impressed by the Sea Cadets.
"It's great to see young adults wanting to support the Warfighter at such an early age. I didn't think they realized how much (unmanned aircraft) have to offer in different fields -- and now they know."