A program in Stanislaus County is aiming to help boys and girls see if they have what it takes to become a Navy SEAL, all while helping them become respectable members of society in the process.
High school students who think they’d someday like to join the United States Navy Sea, Air and Land Teams, known as the SEALs, can get a taste of the military life through the Junior Navy SEALs of Stanislaus County — a program that aims to develop leadership within its members, educate them on how to evaluate high-intensity situations, instill in them proper etiquette and help them overcome adversity in life.
The program began 10 years ago and has since seen 1,000 local students benefit from its curriculum, with 400 graduating from the program. According to coach Buddy Wesson, about half of the students who graduate from the program go on to a two- or four-year college and then the military, while just over 40 percent go straight into the military and the remaining numbers enter the workforce.
“This program asks students two things: do you have the body, and do you have the mental ability to be a SEAL?” Wesson said. “We teach them to be both an officer and a gentleman. Whether you go to college, go into the workforce or go into the military, once you’ve gone through this you’re ahead of the game.”
The Junior Navy SEALs program brings students from throughout Stanislaus County together and prepares them to compete in the Trident Challenge, held at Naval Base Coronado every year. From traveling to sandy beaches for miles-long runs to dumping ice into local swimming pools to prepare for the cold, the students are tested mentally and physically, just as would happen once they join the real SEALs.
The purpose of the program is not only to test students’ limits in terms of SEAL capabilities, but also works to produce upstanding citizens. No student can be on the Junior Navy SEALs team if he or she partakes in any drug- or alcohol-related activities, and students must have at least a 2.0 GPA, though Wesson pushes his junior SEALs to obtain at least a 3.5.
While in the program, students must also show command of the “Six Elements of Life,” which include communication, team work, situational awareness, goal setting, stress control and etiquette. These are the “tools of the trade,” Wesson said, and develop a solid foundation for each member’s future.
Philanthropy is important too, and the Junior Navy SEALs often volunteer at events throughout the community. Most recently, the team served and cleaned up at the Ceres SWAT Association’s fundraising dinner.
“People meet these students and just immediately ask me, ‘Who are these kids?’ It’s rare these days to meet kids who will square up with you, shake your hand firmly and treat you with respect,” Wesson said. “We want to train admirals who will look at a crowd and be confident in themselves.”
The program began accepting female students into its ranks just two years ago, when the U.S. Navy SEALs began to do the same. Since then, Wesson has seen numerous girls go through the program and go on to find success in both academics and the military.
Currently, the Junior Navy SEALs of Stanislaus County is working on the renovation of a building to be used as their meeting place/headquarters, but funds are short, Wesson said. To run the program over the last decade, he has had to spend thousands of dollars of his own money, and the program is looking to the community to help.
Those interested in either joining the Junior Navy SEALs of Stanislaus County or donating to the program can contact Wesson at firstname.lastname@example.org.