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Navy cadets drill away at the Valley Stream American Legion

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The halls of the Valley Stream American Legion echoed on Saturday with shouts and the thud of stomping boots. “Right flank march,” went a command. “Left flank march,” went another, as the children, clad in a combination of white and black Navy dress uniforms, and blue fatigues, marched in place. More commands came, and the sailors dutifully followed.

Visiting from Corona, Queens, the children — more than two dozen in number — and their instructors were part of the New York Naval Cadet Corps, a volunteer youth program for children aged 9 to 17 intended to instill the basics of military discipline, and hopefully provide them some tools for use in the future.

“It’s like a basic boot camp for the kids,” Donny Ponce, lieutenant commander and founder of the group said. Saturday’s drills were part of that, and while many might not enlist, Ponce noted, that isn’t the point.

“The goal for us is for them to find the right path,” he said. “Whether they join the military or not.”

The program is normally based out of P.S. 14 in Corona, but with restrictions on access to school facilities during the coronavirus pandemic, the Cadet Corps have had to get creative in finding places to perform their drills. During the summer they had the parks, Ponce said, but during the winter it became too cold.

That was when Valley Streamer George Schuchman, a lieutenant with the Corps, discussed the situation with his fellow members at the American Legion, to see if they could offer their space. They quickly agreed.

“It was no issue,” Schuchman said.