September 20, 2002

Maritime Marines help Imperial Beach high school students earn while they learn

While their peers may have spent the summer surfing or flipping burgers, Karl Murphy, James Treber, Francisco Velazquez and 20 other students from Mar Vista High School were learning job skills aboard two Navy supply ships. And earning more than $9 an hour while steaming around San Diego and Hawaii.

Swearing In: L-R: Francisco Velazquez, James Treber, Karl Murphy take their oath to serve aboard the USNS Tippecanoe and the USNS Guadalupe. The three graduated from the Sweetwater District's Maritime Technology Program this summer.

The young mariners, ages 16-19, are enrolled in the first-of-its-kind Maritime Technology Program—an 18-month Regional Occupational Program course of instruction at Mar Vista High in Imperial Beach. Students began their in-class portion of the program during the winter, gearing up for their at-sea apprentice program this summer aboard the two Navy supply ships.

When the students shipped off in June, they were nervous, thinking about spending 24 hours a day for six weeks at sea, hauling heavy ropes, standing watch and learning shipboard engineering.

But on graduation day in July the Mar Vista High students had not only successfully completed their apprenticeships, they had earned the respect of professional sailors and captains.

“You’ve earned significant bragging rights because few high school students have ever had a summer job as exciting, challenging and rewarding as yours,” said Rear Adm. David L. Brewer III, the commander of the Military Sealift Command Pacific, where the students’ ships are based.

Moreover, Murphy, Treber and Velazquez—who had missed their high school graduation ceremonies while aboard —had so impressed their shipmates that the Navy hired them right on the spot.

The young men had spent their summer in the engine room and now have set their sights on earning chief engineer status.

“Where else can a kid straight out of high school spend the summer sailing and then at the end of it sign on for a $30,000-a-year job with unlimited growth potential,” said Navy Public Affairs Officer Larry Crutchfield.

“They could easily be a master of a ship within eight to 10 years, making $150,000 to $350,000,” Crutchfield said.

The maritime academy is the brainchild of retired Navy Captain Ray Addicott, a former Military Sealift Command commander and co-owner of Training Resources Limited, the company that provides the Coast Guard, state-certified instructors for the Mar Vista program.

“The United States maritime industry is facing a critical shortage of qualified merchant mariners,” Addicott said. “Labor, private industry, state government, Sweetwater Union High School District, Mar Vista High School and Military Sealift Command Pacific formed this very unique partnership to produce trained mariners in critical ratings—mid-level deck and engine unlicensed personnel.

“By putting the students into a structured training program and taking them through all the steps required to get their Merchant Mariner’s Document, we’re able to keep them motivated to complete the training and become merchant mariners,” Addicott said.

Young men were not the only ones enjoying the experience. Six young Mar Vista High women were among the apprentices. Twins Carolina and Cristina Ramirez gained their confidence by pulling heavy rigging, standing watch on the deck and learning how to defend the ship.

Carolina said she will be ready to sign up to be a full-time merchant mariner when she graduates high school next summer.

“With the money I earn, I can save to buy a house in two years,” Carolina said.

This focus has translated into all aspects of the students’ work, said Mar Vista High Principal Dr. Louise Phipps.

“We’ve seen absences go down and their grades go up in their other classes,” Phipps said. “They have a real sense of purpose and direction now... and it’s paying off.”

The students get two hours of maritime-related instruction five days a week during the school year. The classroom portion of the program is paid for by the Sweetwater Regional Occupational Program and with grants from the state, the Sailors Union of the Pacific, and private industry.

The student apprentices were assigned to two Military Sealift Command Pacific Underway Replenishment Oilers: the USNS Tippecanoe, now operating off the coast of Hawaii; and USNS Guadalupe, the other Southern California oiler based out of San Diego. The at-sea portion, including wages paid to the apprentices, was funded by Military Sealift Command Pacific under authority of the Student Educational Employment Program.

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