A guaranteed sight on Texas A&M University at Galveston’s campus is students in Navy-issued khaki uniforms. This year, 579 of the students on the Pelican Island campus participate in the Texas A&M Maritime Academy and the Corps of Cadets.
The Maritime Academy’s mission is to provide Texas and the United States with highly trained, U.S. Coast Guard licensed merchant officers to serve on ocean and inland waterways vessels, according to its website. The Corps of Cadets is part of the academy and its mission is developing character and leadership, members said.
The Corps of Cadets began in 1962 at Texas A&M in College Station. A year later, the program began on the Galveston campus, which was a year after the campus was founded.
With 579 students in the Maritime Academy, 23 percent of the 2,507 enrolled TAMUG students participate in the Corps of Cadets.
The goal of the program is to develop disciplined young adults who are ready to take on any job thrown at them, officials said.
Midshipman Caitlin Bezecny, a senior, is a merchant marine major pursuing a license in both Navy and merchant marine options.
A license allows merchant mariners to be a third mate for a ship.
“By the time you’re done with the program, you may be young, but you are a highly trained professional,” Bezecny said. “You can take responsibility for actions, people’s lives and billions of dollars of cargo.”
Bezecny is the chief of staff for the Corps of Cadets, which is just one leadership role cadets can hold. After freshman year, cadets are allowed to apply for various positions to expand their roles in the programs.
Some of those positions include division officer, executive officer and commanding officer.
“Taking care of people is one of the hardest things to do,” Bezecny said. “You are responsible for everyone’s well-being and keep mental tabs on how they’re doing, all while not being intrusive.”
The cadets themselves have to become good at taking information from multiple people. Following two chains of command can be difficult, Cadet Elizabeth Bennet, a non-license merchant marine major, said.
“Sometimes, you take on a very hands-on leadership role or you have more of an indirect management position,” Bennett said. “As an executive officer and division officer, it’s hard to keep the styles in line.”
Leadership roles are not required to do well in the Corps of Cadets programs. Some students have a harder time balancing their duties with school, as cadets have much more pressure to do well.
Every Wednesday, cadets in the program have to meet at 5:45 a.m. for physical training and are required to attend formations every day at 7:15 a.m. Although classes vary, many Maritime Academy classes begin at 8 a.m. Underclassmen have to participate in three hours of study hall every evening with a curfew at 10:30 p.m.
Learning to balance and multitask is a talent and skill cadets must master, Bezecny said.
“If I lost my agenda, my life would be in shambles,” Bezecny said. “It is important for us to multitask, because in the real world you’ll have expensive equipment and lives you need to take care of when sailing.”
Cadets get real experience sailing on large ships and working with crews of professionals. Not only do their classes offer work on simulators on the Training Ship General Rudder, they also are required to take three cruises a year.
These cruises vary, but usually cadets spend multiple weeks on a training or commercial ship learning how to sail. The process helps students decide on their major course of study.
“After my cruise, I decided I want to go into aviation helicopters,” Bennett said. “The MH-60S helicopters help with relief, humanitarian aid and special warfare, which would be perfect for me.”
There are many different lucrative career paths graduates from the Maritime Academy can take, which includes military service.
About 80 percent of the cadets in the Galveston program will go into service, university spokesman Bob Wright said.
“I can’t decide if I want to stay in merchant marines or go into active duty,” Bezecny said. “All I really care about is being on the water.”
“The unique bond all cadets share is a love of the ocean,” Wright said. “Regardless of major and career path.”
The Corps of Cadets builds camaraderie with one another throughout their time in school. Whether it be from sharing similar goals or living in the same dorm, friendships are strong in the corps.
“You know they have your back and won’t let you down,” Bezecny said. “Ride or die friends are truly made on cruises and every day at school.”
“It is hard for people outside the program to understand time constraints,” Bennett said. “Ninety percent of the friends I’ve made is from cadets.”
The students in the Corps of Cadets program are different from the average college student. They are put in many high-pressure situations when they are spending most of their summers on cruises and they must perform to an elevated standard in all of their academic career.
The faculty works diligently to give students the skill set to be successful in any career path, Capt. Scott Putty said. Professors focus on developing decision making, risk management and leadership skills.
“When students get all these components, they really have a toolbox of skills they can take and use anywhere,” Putty said.
The faculty puts the students through stressful situations because what they are training for is extremely important and specialized. Unbeknown to many, there are thousands of ships carrying billions of dollars of goods on the world’s waters every day.
“We train them with a lot of pressure because shipping is critical to everyday living,” Putty said. “This is an extremely specialized job and not everyone can do it.”
Even if the perfect job is not on the horizon for cadets, many of them would not do college any other way, they said. Not all college students have been in a situation where they had to drop everything to listen to an officer and stick to a strict schedule every day. Nor have many students been asked to step up and make tough decisions for the good of a larger whole.
“Everyone is different coming out of the program,” Bezecny said. “You learn so much and now I have an itch to help others and voice to speak up.”