Bradley Labra the Sea Cadet

When Bradley Labra was in eighth grade, he enrolled in The American Veteran Division program as a U.S. Naval Sea Cadet and learned all about the different ranks and overall history of the Navy, with real life veterans as instructors.

He heard about the program through a friend who had been in the program for about three years. During the summer before his ninth grade year, he had an honest talk with himself and realized he needed more confidence, self discipline, and it wouldn’t hurt to have better self-esteem. He decided to face the biggest obstacle he could think of. He voluntarily enrolled in the program’s extremely strict boot camp for two weeks in Belle Glade.

When he arrived, he saw 80 other teenage boys, and all of his peers- shipmates- were complete strangers to each other. The program consisted of four different barracks (rooms) in which the maximum of 20 people stayed. Bradley was assigned to Barracks Charlie, where there were only creaky bunk beds and boring cement walls. The naked walls reminded him of how much stuff he had back home, and made him homesick. As someone who is very family orientated, he was very intimidated by unknown faces, but he knew everyone else must have felt the same way too, and that made him feel less anxious.

Before they went to bed, the instructors screamed ‘Mail!’ and called each sea cadet up by name to receive post cards from parents, if they got any. Bradley got them a lot from his mom and it was during the first few days of not being home and realizing just how hard this whole thing was.

“When I read what she wrote to me, I could hear her saying it to me and it made me miss her and I just started crying,” he said.

This boot camp was nothing that he had expected it to be. Realization hit him extremely hard each morning when he woke up at 4:00 am. Instead of a nice wake up call, Bradley was awakened by veterans hitting pans with wooden spoons, banging on the walls and yelling. When they woke up, they all had to use the restroom in less than two minutes.

After they brushed their teeth they went straight to eat a huge plate of scrambled eggs. That’s all they ever ate, eggs. They were really ordinary and a little bland but neither Bradley or his shipmates expected anything else.

“When I found out where the eggs came from I was so shocked,” he said. So about half a quarter mile from where we were staying there was a prison, and the prisoners were the ones that cooked our eggs every morning, and I just thought that was so cool.”

The biggest obstacle for Bradley was the exerciss. They all ran 18 laps without stopping around the track every single morning in the complete dark. Bradley was overweight and it made running those dreading laps even worse.

He would find himself completely vulnerable on the runs, gasping for air, losing control and energy. In the midst of giving up, however, there was always a beam of hope in the form of voices. He would hear the encouragement of his shipmates.

On the track there was always a certain formation to follow. The slow runners were always upfront, and the fast ones ran behind them. The idea was that when the slow runners gave it their all and started slowing down, the faster runners could motivate them to keep going no matter how hard it hurt. Partnership played a huge role in getting things done at the boot camp. It made things less frustrating because they always had people around them to keep them going.

“I can’t tell you how many times I felt a rush of energy when I heard my shipmates yelling at me to finish strong. Whenever I couldn’t find it in me to hold myself up- which was a lot since I was a slow runner- they believed in me, they were there to remind me I could do it,” said Bradley. “It was such a powerful feeling, and even though I don’t talk to any of my shipmates anymore, they left such an impression on me and I’m still really grateful for them.”

As Bradley saw himself accomplishing everything he put his mind to, he recognized that he was getting better with his communication skills and had greater self discipline. To this day, he no longer puts things off because they’re “hard.” He forces himself to do them. Bradley, who would rely on others for help, learned how to handle things on his own. He learned how to become confident in the way he carries himself, which later on helped him flourish with his self image and esteem.

Bradley came back home 35 pounds lighter because of strict workouts, and finally found value and appreciation for himself. He realized just how important his family actually is to him because when he saw them again, he felt so overwhelmed that he cried. This experience, even though very frustrating and difficult, taught him that he can do everything. He proved to himself that things only seem far fetched and hard to achieve because he was never determined enough. Now he is, and he knows he can do anything.

“I believe in myself so much more, and I honestly believe I came back home a changed person. I learned that everyone deserves respect, and that I’m capable of so much. I know I have limitations, but that I can overcome them if I push harder,” he said. “I had enough experience to see that a lot of everything I do has to do with believing in myself. It’s all thanks to the boot camp.”