“So, we’re standing next to where the missiles
“Yeah,” laughed Lieutenant Brandon Mason. “These are the magazines.”
The previously chatty group of U.S. Navy JROTC students from Richards High School suddenly fell silent.
Standing on catwalks below deck of the USS James Williams, the navy’s newest destroyer, the cadets looked around, smiled, and stared back at Mason.
“Pretty cool, huh?” Mason said.
Overwhelmed at times by the sophisticated weaponry, radar, communications equipment, and other technologies, students received a rich lesson in navy life from the young officer.
Mason agreed to escort the Bulldog Company cadets and their teachers, Commander DougGroters and Chief Petty Officer Dennis Reynolds — both retired — around the ship.
The tour of the Williams proved a highlight of a week’s travel to Annapolis, Norfolk Naval Base, Patuxent River Naval Air Station, and Washington, D.C. for the students.
Aboard the Williams, named for one of the U.S. Navy’s most decorated sailors, students toured the bridge, combat information center, ward room (where officers eat), mess, and other non-classified areas.
Later in the day, the group traveled along the Virginia coast to the naval museum Nauticus.
The USS Wisconsin, an immense battleship from World War II, anchors adjacent to the museum. The Richards group examined the guns, wandered across the teak decks, walked up and down the exterior stairwells, and toured the inside of the famous battleship, which last served in the Gulf War in the early 1990s.
The trip started with a campus tour of the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. Groters, a USNA graduate, led the students around the picturesque grounds.
The group next visited Patuxent River Naval Air Station in Maryland. Pax River, as it is known, serves as the test site for all naval aircraft.
On the drive from Maryland to Norfolk, the group stopped at Yorktown, Virginia, the site of key battles in both the Revolutionary War and Civil War.
Finally, the JROTC group headed to Washington for some unforgettable experiences.
They stopped at the National Mall to tour the Lincoln, FDR, Martin Luther King, and Jefferson memorials and all the war monuments. They visited the Naval Observatory, where Groters served for two years, and toured Capitol Hill.
Arlington National Cemetery offered perhaps the most indelible experiences. Students viewed the grave of President John F. Kennedy, stopped to salute a funeral detail, and visited the museums.
The trip concluded with a stop at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The students stayed to watch the Changing of the Guard ceremony.