South, West cadets face their fears at camp
West Caldwell High School student Hunter Lambert balanced on a thin rope nearly 25 feet in the air. He had a harness strapped around his waist connected to another rope as he wobbled along. Reaching a platform, Hunter still had another rope to tip-toe across. Down below, other students shouted encouragement.
All of them were Junior ROTC students -- a total of 20 from West Caldwell and South Caldwell high schools were among about 100 from the region who spent the past week at Camp Bud Schiele in Rutherfordton as part of Basic Leadership Training. The weeklong camp involves activities, lessons and leadership-building exercises from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day. The students swam, shot air rifles, practice drill routines, learned survival skills, camped, boated, raced down ziplines, crossed high ropes and more.
Command Master Chief Petty Officer Wayne Mihelich, West Caldwell’s Navy Junior ROTC teacher, said this was his 11th summer at the camp, and he enjoys it every year.
“The main thing we’re trying to do is make sure these cadets are successful in school and after they get out of school. It’s setting them up for success as adults,” Mihelich said.
Mihelich said the students dramatically change in how they view the world and take on challenges. At the beginning of camp, many of the cadets had never been zip lining, walking over ropes 20 or more feet from the ground or rappelling down a 43-foot wall. Some have to be talked or even pushed to get them moving, but once they hit the ground, Mihelich said they are begging to go again.
“If they’ve come up here, if they’ve spent the money, my job is get them over that apprehensiveness,” Mihelich said.
The camp is run by students who have attended the camp before. Mihelich and South Caldwell Naval Junior ROTC teacher David Brown said they mostly hang back and let the senior cadets lead their classmates through the days at camp.
West Caldwell cadet James Curtis, a commanding officer for one of the nine platoons, said his responsibilities include putting together activities, carrying out discipline, keeping his cadets on time and caring for his platoon.
“(The camp experience) is different when it comes with the position, because the different position offers a different perspective,” he said. “I’ve definitely become a better leader and learned a lot of different ways to deal with people. I’ve developed a lot, a lot, of confidence.”
Basic Leadership Training not only encourages a bond among classmates at each schools but among students from the different counties, who will see each other regularly at competitions. Also, Mihelich said, it is a great week for him to get to know his students.
“What the kids don’t realize is this is a big bonding moment with us, too,” Mihelich said.
Preparing to swing from one elevated platform to another, Hunter Lambert realized mainly how high up he was. He froze on the platform, and you could see him working past the fear of falling.
Down below, Brown yelled, “Come on, Tarzan.”
Hunter shouted that he was going to swing, then he jumped off the platform. For barely two seconds, Hunter gracefully moved through the air, but he had forgotten to lift his knees. Bam! They slammed into the platform, and Hunter went swinging backward. He wouldn't make it this time. His partner lowered the rope until he reached the ground.
Before, Hunter’s face had been a bit off-white. Now, there was a growing smile on his lips.
“(It was) a different experience than what I really thought it was going to be,” Hunter said. “I would do it again, next year or whenever. I was just afraid of falling, that’s all.”