Local Sea Cadet reaches highest rank

Lt. Cmdr. Guy Mignogna, commanding officer, Pittsburgh Battalion, congratulates Aidan Sommers following his promotion last month to the rank of Chief Petty Officer in the U.S. Navy Sea Cadet Corps.

Aidan Sommers, 17, of Kilbuck Township, was promoted last month to the rank of Chief Petty Officer, the highest rank a cadet can achieve within the national U.S. Navy Sea Cadet Corps (USNSCC). His rank was marked by a ceremony in Pittsburgh, presided over by U.S. Navy Sea Cadet Commanding Officer Guy Mignogna.

Sommers, a PA Cyber senior, belongs to the Pittsburgh Sea Cadet Battalion, the Western Pennsylvania chapter of the national youth leadership development organization. The Sea Cadet Corps promotes interest and skill in naval disciplines while instilling strong moral character and life skills through leadership and technical programs modeled after the Navy's professional development system.

Aidan's dad, Bob Sommers, said he considers the program to be one of the best in the country for youth development.

“Aidan is dedicated to the program and put a great effort achieving the rank of chief. The STEM [science, technology, engineering, math] learning and testing projects are an important component of rising within the ranks of the Sea Cadet program. You have to put in the time, but you also have to attend highly intense trainings across the country. In addition, a Sea Cadet has to take a series of exams that move the student through the process. To achieve the highest level, as he did, is a big accomplishment,” he said.

Sommers has been actively involved in various trainings for about four years in the Pittsburgh Sea Cadet Battalion, mainly through his interest in the U.S. Naval Academy. When he was 13, his mother, Patricia, looked into the program. Aidan liked that many of the experiences would boost his application to the Naval Academy.

The Pittsburgh Battalion conducts monthly drills and prepares Sea Cadets for national trainings and leadership instruction hosted by USNSCC across the United States. A staff of dedicated adults focuses on teamwork, leadership development and community service, with an emphasis on STEM courses, some of Sommers' big interests. The Pittsburgh Battalion is now an official affiliate member of the STEM Educational Coalition.

The experience, Aidan said, has been life-changing.

“As a Sea Cadet, I've had the opportunity to attend a medical training program two years in a row at Central Michigan University. The training is run by university professors and Navy retirees and delves into topics like microbiology, forensics, and blood cells. I also attended the American Legion Keystone Boys State week-long mock government this past summer at Shippensburg University.”

Sommers also spent two weeks last summer at Camp Pendleton in California, the largest U.S. Marines base, where he did field drills, backpacked, and lived in tents with active duty Marines and other Sea Cadets, experiencing a certain camaraderie and enjoyment in “playing soldier” for two weeks with active duty Marines.

Aidan said the program offers young cadets a way to explore their interests. “If you are a teenager looking to experience different learning environments that are fun and challenging, consider Pittsburgh Sea Cadet Battalion.”

The Battalion was established in 1964 and is led by volunteer men and women from Pittsburgh and the surrounding area. The Pittsburgh Battalion conducts “drills” once per month and prepares Sea Cadets for various opportunities and career paths within the U.S. military. “You can go the hardcore military side or you can go the more civilian career route,” Aidan said.

He noted that attending PA Cyber opened him to some amazing opportunities. For example, as a gifted student, he was able to excel in math by taking courses at his own pace. “If there's something I understand, I can just test on that and get through it. Then I can move on to something that I might struggle with so that I can spend more time on it,” he said. Aidan, who also swims competitively with the Northgate-Avonworth team, spends three hours a day practicing, and said that he appreciates the freedom of a schedule to work out, practice, and still have time to complete his homework.

A straight-A student, Aidan said it was helpful to have access to a broad array of classes and the opportunity to take classes through the John Hopkins program through PA Cyber.

“One of the biggest things I think for my application, particularly when I'm applying for Navy ROTC and the Naval or Air Force Academy, is that I've been taking classes in Arabic, which, of course, is very helpful for our nation's military and our security. After this next semester, I will have had two years of Arabic, a language which not many kids my age know, since there are few Arabic programs out there, especially in brick-and-mortar schools.”

Sommers intends to study some facet of engineering -- electrical, mechanical or aerospace. He hopes to attend the Naval Academy after high school, but has also applied to the Air Force Academy. He received a Congressional nomination for both from his local congressman, and he has been awarded a Navy ROTC scholarship to attend any school of his choosing that has a Navy ROTC program. Once out of college, Sommers would serve five years in the military.