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Army Lt. Col. Peter Aubrey gives Cadet 2nd Lt. a boost of confidence at the top of a 75-foot wall at Tama Hills on Thursday.

Army Lt. Col. Peter Aubrey gives Cadet 2nd Lt. a boost of confidence at the top of a 75-foot wall at Tama Hills on Thursday. (Jason Carter / S&S)

Army Lt. Col. Peter Aubrey gives Cadet 2nd Lt. a boost of confidence at the top of a 75-foot wall at Tama Hills on Thursday.

Army Lt. Col. Peter Aubrey gives Cadet 2nd Lt. a boost of confidence at the top of a 75-foot wall at Tama Hills on Thursday. (Jason Carter / S&S)

Cadet 2nd Lt. Rony Harden pays close attention to instruction during a drill session at Tama Hills on Thursday.

Cadet 2nd Lt. Rony Harden pays close attention to instruction during a drill session at Tama Hills on Thursday. (Jason Carter / S&S)

Two cadets rappel down a 75-foot wall at Tama Hills on Thursday. Yokota High School's JROTC unit went to Tama Hills on Thursday for their annual rappelling field trip.

Two cadets rappel down a 75-foot wall at Tama Hills on Thursday. Yokota High School's JROTC unit went to Tama Hills on Thursday for their annual rappelling field trip. (Jason Carter / S&S)

TAMA HILLS, Japan — It’s a leap of faith that Army Rangers make all the time.

But if you’re a teenager who’s never dangled down the side of a 75-foot elevator shaft, it can be a moment of sheer terror.

About 120 cadets from Yokota High School’s Army JROTC program tried rappelling Thursday on a chilly, overcast day at Tama Hills, a rustic military recreation area near Tokyo. They devised creative ways to shake off their fears.

“I was singing, ‘Itsy, Bitsy Spider,’ the whole way down,” said a tearful Cadet Sgt. Dana Cannon, 14, moments after she touched the ground. “It scared me half to death.”

Cadet Pvt. Destiny Sanders, 13, resorted to prayer and the power of distraction.

“I was naming a whole bunch of fruitcakes and stuff. Candy and applesauce,” she said.

The day spent at Tama Hills was a field trip in the truest sense. When their company wasn’t rappelling, cadets did sit-ups, ran a timed mile, marched in circles, tossed horseshoes and practiced first-aid carries in which one person totes a buddy and races to different stations.

But rappelling was the main event.

“You hate to say, ‘Be all you can be,’” said retired Army Lt. Col. Robert Mateer, repeating an Army catch phrase, “but rappelling really challenges them to do that. If you can do something physically, maybe you can do something with your academics, too.”

A hollowed-out concrete tower, the climbing wall is believed to have once been an elevator shaft to underground tunnels, Mateer said. Tama Hills was a Japanese ammunition storage site during World War II.

Instructing the cadets on the ropes were two experienced rappellers: retired Army 1st. Sgt. Joe Castro and Army Lt. Col. Peter Aubrey, both Army Rangers.

In all, 11 adult volunteers from Yokota assisted the effort, from medics to judges at various activity stations.

Castro and Aubrey worked steadily throughout the day, helping even the most frightened cadets take that leap of faith — backwards — over the edge.

“This is my career right here. This is my life,” said Castro, who’s rappelled from moving helicopters. “Once the kids get off this tower, they love it. They want to do more.”

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

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