By Mike Manhatton - email
SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - Living on the coast, you would expect it to be prime territory for a naval presence. The fleet is here, but not in the numbers to match the Army or Marines.
They fill the skies over the Lowcountry and Coastal empire, Navy fliers based at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort. They serve ashore at the Beaufort's Naval Hospital between deployments.
And just down the coast, they are making new sailors and marines.
"When we put on these uniforms there's a great sense of pride, and there's no way we can put these on incorrectly," said Cadet Midshipman Alexander Craig.
"This is just one way to teach them discipline, how to wear their uniform, to be proud of the uniform that they wear," said Marine Officer Instructor, Operations Officer Maj. Terrance Watson.
That uniform is the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps. Savannah State University's NROTC program. Young men and women who want to lead and become sailors and Marines.
But it isn't easy. This isn't your typical campus life.
"I know my friends are rolling over, or they're texting me at 3:00 a.n., I'm like, "No, I have to get some sleep, I have to wake up in an hour,'"said Cadet midshipman first class Danielle Smith from Port Royal.
"My typical day, I'm awake at 4:00, 4:00 in the morning, and we're over here, working out, physical training, PT. Two hours," explained Cadet midshipman third class Ethan Sarrell.
And they aren't just on the field, but in the classroom as well.
"In addition to those 120 or so credits that they have to do like all of our other normal students, they also have an additional requirement on the naval science side," Maj. Terrance Watson told WTOC. "And that probably encompasses about an additional twenty credits or so, and along with that, the professional development side, of course, we're teaching them leadership."
They have some wonderful examples in the halls of their headquarters.
"What we try to do here is, you know, the students put this together, but the main thing behind it is to let them know about folks who came before them and kind of paved the way for them," said Maj. Watson. "One example would be Lt. Gen. Walter Gaskin is one of our senior African American generals right now in the military, still active duty."
He's currently the Deputy Chairman of NATO's Military Committee, and the first African American to command a Marine Corps Division.
Also flying high, Savannah State and NROTC graduate Donnie Cochran.
"He was the first African American to command the Blue Angels," Maj. Terrance Watson said.
He is the reason SSU has the Blue Angel jet flying overhead as you enter the campus.
That's motivation, but why do they choose this challenging life?
"Well, honestly, I think it chose me," said Cadet Midshipman 3rd Class Ethan Serrell. "It's one of those things that I feel I'm being called to do.""
"Well, sir, you know a lot of people go through life wondering, not wondering, or wondering if they made a difference," Cadet Midshipman Alexander Craig. "And you know, us, in this program, we don't have to worry about that."
Cadet Midshipman Smith, who happens to be from Port Royal, says this time next year she hopes to be on a ship in the fleet. And while it's a Navy program, some of the cadets are planning to moce to the Marine Corps as they continue their career.