Two years ago, at her first training session as a U.S. Naval Sea Cadet in Camp Pendleton, Briana Garden was introduced to “the playground.”
“They call it the playground,” Garden, a student at Albert Einstein Academy, says. “We were all excited. Definitely not what we thought it was.”
Garden and her fellow cadets were unleashed onto a gravel parking lot where they did physical training like pushups and sprints – all while being screamed at.
But by the end of the playground visit, she learned something valuable that also applied to her life as a softball player at Einstein.
“In the end we had to work together,” Garden says. “It wasn’t just a one-person effort. If somebody did something wrong, we all did something wrong. So it really showed that you really have to be a team. You really have to work together.”
The first baseman took that mentality into this past softball season and helped the Rockets to an Omega League title.
“It brings discipline,” says Einstein softball coach Mike Blischke of Garden’s military involvement. “She has no problem understanding instructions and following them. (The Sea Cadets) makes her disciplined and hard working.”
Garden joined the Sea Cadets, a military program that fosters leadership, basic seamanship and discipline, in her freshman year of high school. She was drawn to the Navy’s exhibit at a career day event at her school and explored options that could get her involved with the military immediately.
A family friend was part of the Sea Cadets, so she went to a drill. Similar to softball, she felt she belonged with the Cadets and the Navy, but it wasn’t an instantaneous feeling.
“I was very hesitant at first,” Garden says. “I would go back and forth with the idea. It’s a big commitment to make because it’s a sacrifice you make for our country and I just wanted to make sure it was the right decision, which I think it is.”
The encouragement she experienced from her fellow Cadets solidified her decision. Through her first few drill weekends, Garden recalled feeling nervous, particularly when it came to physical training.
“If someone needs encouragement, they’re right there. I remember I was running my mile run and it was super hot and I was like, I wasn’t the last one, but I was coming in and they were like, ‘Go, you can do this, you got this, push,’ and I ended up beating my time.”
Garden, who just wrapped up her junior year, still sees the military as a part of her life in the future. After finishing high school, she plans to go to college and be a part of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps while studying international studies and language studies. In her Navy career, she would like to be a judge advocate general or an engineer.
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“She’s very driven,” Blischke says. “She’s very goal-oriented. She has this master plan. We all have a master plan, it doesn’t always work out, but she’s very detailed. She’s right on course.”
Currently as a Sea Cadet, Garden attends drill one weekend every month. She also has the option to go to training in various categories.
This Sunday, she’ll leave for marksmanship training in Banning.
“The trainings are all over the US, so we go meet so many people,” Garden says. “It’s a great experience. You get the real military feel. We eat, sleep, drink and breathe everything the actual military does.”
Being a Sea Cadet opened another opportunity. Garden applied for and was accepted to the Spirit of American Youth Leadership Program, a four-day conference that focuses on citizenship, democracy and American politics.
As part of the application process, Garden had to submit an essay.
“The essay was basically like, if we didn’t judge people and we didn’t focus on the negative things in people, how would society be different,” she says.
“The world would be much more of a better place if everybody – it’s a long shot – but just got along and there wasn’t all these arguments over things that didn’t really matter.”
Garden is unsure of where she will attend high school her senior year, due to Einstein’s uncertain future, or if she will play softball. Whether or not she plays, the Sea Cadet mindset will stay true.
“With the Sea Cadets, I learned I needed to work with my team. I couldn’t just be the only person out there, because that’s not how it works,” Garden says. “That’s not how it works in life in general. You’re always going to have to work with somebody.”