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Sequestration Putting The Squeeze On Youth Military Program

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- A program that gives teens a firsthand military experience is coping with budget cuts due to sequestration, the automatic federal spending cuts.

The U.S. Sea Cadets Twin Cities Squadron teaches responsibility, dedication, even boot camp-type training drills.

But now, some of the training opportunities have been eliminated, or are costing families more money.

Martha Miller, 14, is at the start of a career in the armed forces.

"It's always been an interest of mine," the Sea Cadet said.

Not old enough to enlist, she's still experiencing military life.

"I love it," Miller said. "It's challenged me so much."

She's one of the 50 or so teens participating in the U.S. Sea Cadets Twin Cities Squadron.

The program is targeted to teens ages 13 to 17, allowing people such as Blake Holman to "test drive" the Navy without the commitment.

"I wanted to join the military, and I wanted to know what it was like, and see if it was right for me," he said.

The requirements are in some ways similar to the National Guard.

"We do trainings in summer, which is one to two weeks," Holman said.

Members receive rank and accolades just like enlisted troops.

"I have about 16 now, so it's a rewarding feeling, because you earned them on your own," Sea Cadet Jaqueline Levvintre said.

But in the last year, the program has become more limited.

"We are overcoming it, the best way we know how," said Barney Uhlig, the Squadron's commanding officer.

Membership dues make up 95 percent of the budget, but federal money covers the remaining five percent. That funding has been drastically reduced because of sequestration.

"We have cases in which cadets attend but don't join because the parents don't have means to join at this time," Uhlig said.

The cuts have affected transportation, uniform upkeep, but most importantly the training exercises where cadets get a sense of what they want to do in military once they enlist.

Families end up paying the difference for the cost of the training. In some cases, it's more than tripled as some of the training takes cadets out of state.

For Peter Watkins, the price is well worth it. He recently learned he had an eye for marksmanship.

"That was outstanding," he said. "I shot an M16A4 all week. We had a blast there."

While this program faces an uncertain future for training opportunities, the cadets are certain their future is in the armed forces.

"This is what I want to do with my life," Miller said.

Time in the Sea Cadet program also leads to a higher rank and pay when a cadet decides to enlist in the military.

There are several squadrons around the state, and for more info, click here.

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