The cafeteria is loud with laughter and children scurrying along to their positions as their parents watch on from the entrance. Smaller kids practice turning on their heel while instructors bark orders at groups who either have to start a test or are practicing routines. Most are in camo fatigues but some of the new members are in casual clothes. All the sounds and activity are reminiscent of boot camp scenes from military movies but leading generation after generation of Sea Cadet’s is Cadet Brigadier General Joseph Ronda’s typical Friday night.
General Ronda was born and raised in the Bronx and grew up in the Throggs Neck area. He works as a Staff Non-Commissioned Officer (SNCO) in the New York State Guard (NYSG). He joined the Cadets back in 1985 and has spent 30 years working with the Cadet Corps as the Cadet Brigadier General for the Star of the Sea – Sea Cadet Corps Incorporated (SOTS-SCC). After spending more than 30 years in the Cadet Corps, General Ronda has seen his cadets come from various households and face many struggles.
“Sometimes this is the only thing that kids look forward too.” said General Ronda while he looked on as the cadets did their drills. Many of his past and present cadets come from low-income families and live in disadvantaged neighborhoods. Children learn how to play different musical instruments, how to march, and work as a band. They also experience what it is like in a military environment, including the physical and mental demands that enforce a sense of discipline and self-confidence. “People tend to view the cadets as simply a military institution but really we are here trying to keep kids off of the streets and out of gangs.”
It’s not uncommon for General Ronda to run into former cadets at community events or for them to come back to volunteer. “Even though I was living in another state for years, it was only until I came back to the cadets that I felt like I was home.” said Chief Warrant Officer and former Sea Cadet, James Washington-Ward. He joined the cadets when he was 13 years old and described himself as “the biggest trouble maker there was.” He operates as a liaison between youth and adults when communication breaks down and standard cadet treatment is not getting to the root of the problem. Many times Chief Warrant Officer Washington-Ward will be the one who sits down with a child to find out that their negative behavior stems from issues like family problems, stress, or problems in school. “You have to be mindful of who is watching you, especially when you are a leader.”
Despite working three jobs, dedicating his time to helping children and having volunteers who do the same, General Ronda struggles to obtain funds needed to keep the Sea Cadets active. He explained that getting enough uniforms is always a challenge but his biggest struggle is getting new and working musical instruments. “Sometimes the instruments are not returned but most of the time they will end up breaking after many uses. These instruments are the core of military ceremonies.” In addition to new instruments and uniforms, the Sea Cadets are in need of ceremonial equipment and tuition for children of low-income parents.
Cadet Brigadier General Joseph Ronda can be contacted through email at firstname.lastname@example.org
photos courtesy of Debbie Powers