By DEBRA VAUGHN
Before Oak Harbor High School senior Chase Powell stepped onto Safeco Field, he was so nervous he could feel the blood pumping through his veins.
He and four other students from the school’s NJROTC Color Guard presented the colors at a Seattle Mariners game Sept. 13 in front of thousands of sports fans — by far the largest venue for this batch of students.
“The cadets did really well,” said their instructor, retired U.S. Navy Chief William Thiel. “They were very nervous once the time to go on the field came.”
They pulled it off without a hitch.
In addition to Powell, the Color Guard cadets are Mara Rouse, Natalie Schuldt, Sydney Prevost and Nathan Larsen.
Oak Harbor’s Naval Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps has become one of the strongest programs in the Northwest, and its Color Guard is its crown jewel.
Even though the students who enroll wear uniforms once a week, learn to march and take classes on subjects such as Naval history, it’s not primarily about the military, said instructor Mike Black, a retired Navy commander.
“It’s about developing informed and involved citizens and developing leadership skills,” he said.
A select few are chosen for the Color Guard. It’s an honor and a commitment for the cadets, who practice outside school hours to perfect the crisp movements. The cadets perform in dozens of events across the region, such as parades, retirement ceremonies and military funerals.
Schuldt said the program has bolstered her confidence. Before she joined “I had purple hair and I was really shy.” She said she feels proud when veterans tell her she and her fellows are future leaders.
Larsen tried nearly every sport in middle school, trying to find his place. He found it here. After graduation, he’s enlisting in the Marine Corps. He used to admire the people in uniform he saw around town.
“Now I’m the person walking down the street people are looking up to,” he said. “It’s a great experience.”