'It isn't 'Camp Cupcake'': Retired SEALs teach young boys teamwork through physical challenges

By STACY PARKER | The Virginian-Pilot (Tribune News Service) | Published: August 6, 2017

NORFOLK — ”Heave, heave.”

A teenager looked up at the sails of the schooner Virginia as he and other boys hauled the lines on the tall ship.

“Guys, you really got to dig in up there,” Capt. Neil Guinan, a retired Navy SEAL, hollered from the stern.

“Put some muscle into it,” said Russ Sage, who was directing a group on the starboard side.

This wasn’t a typical sailing crew.

The teenage boys were attending Camp Trident overnight for a week where military mentors teach them teamwork, confidence and perseverance. They learn how to boat, rock climb, rappel and shoot a rifle.

“The first two days are a kick in the butt,” Guinan said. “It isn’t ‘Camp Cupcake.’”

Guinan and his wife, Mia, run the program with several retired and former Naval Special Warfare friends.

His wife calls it “an umbilical cord-cutting camp,” where the boys leave the comforts of their home and parents behind for a rugged week in the woods.

Guinan and his wife started Camp Trident nine years ago on a friend’s property on the Eastern Shore. The Cape Charles-based nonprofit partners with The Honor Foundation, which helps Navy SEALs and the U.S. Special Operations community transition to civilian life after service.

Guinan, who spent 30 years in the Navy, was inspired to give back after he retired. His wife runs Gourmet Gang, a catering company in Norfolk.

The wind had picked up just in time for the afternoon sailing adventure on July 27.

Earlier that morning, the campers visited the SEAL Heritage Center and conquered an obstacle course at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story.

They boarded the schooner behind Nauticus before lunch for a sailing cruise along the downtown Norfolk waterfront. The campers’ job was to hoist the sails once the captain pointed the ship toward the wind.

Campers from all over Virginia attend the camp each summer, and several low-income minority students bound for college are sponsored to attend.

Ten of the 32 boys on the schooner were from Chicago’s South Side.

Jalen Goodman’s mentor at his high school in Chicago suggested he attend the camp.

“I thought it would be a fun opportunity and a new experience for me,” said Goodman, 16.

Five days into it, Goodman mostly praised the food. He, like most of the other teens, hated the push-ups – a standard discipline for not hustling in formation but also, an exercise in mental fortitude.

Akin Austin, an 18-year-old from Chicago, said the camp was “pushing me to go beyond what’s possible.”

Jordan Heatherton, 25, is a new counselor at Camp Trident. He’s a former Navy SEAL who served overseas and lives in Virginia Beach.

“I wanted to do something to help here at home, to motivate people,” Heatherton said.

At camp, he encourages the boys to strive for a faster time during the second attempt around an obstacle course. He enjoys their surprise when they accomplish it.

“Saying they can’t and at the end, saying they can,” he said. “Everyone has it in them. They just have to find it.”


©2017 The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.)

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