Youth camp to simulate SEAL rigors

posted May 14, 2012, 10:46 AM by Michael Melendez
HOLDEN — A sandy path winds through heavy bamboo to a beach on the Tickfaw River.  Teenagers will traverse that path and beach soon, but not to frolic, sunbathe or lounge in the river’s shallow water.  Instead they will be carrying logs and facing other rigors under the watchful eye of a Navy SEAL.

On Saturday a portion of a Christian camp and retreat area, will be dedicated as Camp Spehar in honor of another Navy SEAL, who was killed in Afghanistan in August.  Camp Spehar will be a training ground for “young men and women, ages 13 to 18, who are interested in test driving the military lifestyle,” said Norman Soren, the camp’s commandant for the U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corps.

Later this month, a group of 16 to 18 year olds will spend a week at the camp undergoing some of the types of training they can expect from life in the military, he said.  The group will include cadets from as far east as Pensacola and as far west as Lake Charles.

The camp is named after Nicholas Spehar, a Navy SEAL, whose father and brother are scheduled to travel from Minnesota for the opening ceremony.  A rocket-propelled grenade downed the helicopter Spehar was in during a night mission to aid ground troops under attack in Afghanistan, said fellow SEAL Kody Seamon, who was Spehar’s roommate when they served together.

Seamon has since retuned to his home in Zachary. In addition to serving in the reserves he will be in charge of training sea cadets at Camp Spehar.  He plans to give teenagers a chance to taste what it’s like to go through SEAL training, so they can decide if military life and possibly special operations are things they want to pursue.

He’s already started construction of an obstacle course. It will use some of the gullies and other natural contours of the land and will include some of the challenges potential SEALs have to face in their training.  In addition to the obstacle course, Seamon plans to use the camp’s large swimming pool, the bamboo bordered path and the river to drill the teenagers.  During a recent walk down a camp path he stops to kill a snake, saying that’s a danger he doesn’t want the cadets to face.  Much of the work will be in the pool, where sea cadets will learn the side stroke and water survival techniques, he said.

Seamon said he plans to run the camp somewhat like a SEAL training unit, pushing the teens hard, but giving the participants the chance to drop out at any time.  “I’m not here to break these kids, because they’re just kids,” he said.  He said he also wants to stress ethics, education, nutrition and good citizenship in his programs.

Soren said the things the sea cadets learn in the program will be useful to them in life whether they decided to join the military or not.  The national sea cadet program was created in 1958 for youth who want to learn about the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard, Soren said.  As commander of the sea cadet’s district from Lafayette to Covington, Soren said he works with recruiters, high schools and various groups to help young people determine if they want to pursue a life in the military and to prepare for it if they do.

Having use of a portion of the KJ Singing Waters Ranch will be a big help, because the local cadets haven’t had a good place to drill in the past, he said.  The Rev. Mike DiMaria, who operates the Christian campground, said the sea cadet program fits with his vision of working with groups and won’t interfere with the ministerial activities of the 81-acre site.
“We see ourselves as a multi functional resource center,” said DiMaria, who is also the pastor of Lifepoint Church in Denham Springs.

Singing Waters, located along the Tickfaw River just south of U.S. 190, dates back decades as a Christian retreat and campground.