PARIS — The angry snap and crackle of .22-caliber rifle fire echoed through stifling afternoon heat Tuesday, as some teenagers from cities scattered all across the country got a taste of handling firearms.
Serena Robella, 15, of San Diego, waiting her turn on the firing line at the Paris Police Department's shooting range, said she had fired pellet guns before, but never a real firearm. She insisted she wasn't nervous.
"I just want to make my grandpa happy, because he was in the Air Force," Serena said. "Hopefully, I'll do OK."
Serena and the other teens were learning marksmanship as a part of their recruit training in the U.S. Army Cadet Corps, a 103-year-old private organization that runs military-style education programs for boys and girls in Bourbon County.
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For almost two weeks, the teens have been dealing with tough physical training, blazing Kentucky summer heat, and in-your-face instructors who have little tolerance for disciplinary lapses. If all goes well, they will officially become cadets when they graduate Saturday, along with participants in the corps' various other summer training programs.
How tough does the training get?
Some kids have been camping out in tents at Blue Licks Battlefield State Resort Park since Monday and won't return to air-conditioned comfort until Wednesday night. Seven boys in the corps' demanding Ranger School got up at 4 a.m. Tuesday and completed an eight-mile road march carrying 25-pound backpacks.
Cadet Pfc. Pascal Agangene, 16, from Cameroon in Central Africa, was among those who completed the hike.
"It was a challenge," said Pascal, who is spending his second summer training in Kentucky with the Army Cadet Corps.
This is a busy summer for the corps, which in 2008 moved its national headquarters to the campus of the old Millersburg Military Institute at Millersburg, a few miles northeast of Paris.
The campus is bustling right now with more than 200 corps recruits and cadets, representing 33 states and 13 foreign countries. All are participating in two- and three-week programs, from Basic Training to Ranger School to Military Police Academy. Some join multiple programs, spending up to seven weeks at Millersburg.
The corps' next major step will come next month, when it plans to open the new Forest Hill Military Academy on the 18-acre Millersburg campus. Officials expect 60 to 75 students in the first class at Forest Hill, which will stress academics and technology, plus military training and discipline to help prepare students for corporate or military careers.
Col. Joseph M. Land, the corps' chief of staff, said teens attend summer camp for various reasons. Some plan to join the military and want an early taste of the lifestyle. Others seek discipline. Most, Land says, want to test themselves.
"A lot of them come here because they want to know what they're capable of," he said Tuesday. "They want a challenge; they want an opportunity to test their mettle; they want to do cool stuff. And some of them want to know what their mothers or fathers or grandparents did in the military."
Increasingly, teens come from all over the globe to train at Millersburg.
According to Land, a girl from the People's Republic of China attended last year, and she gave presentations about the corps at her school when she returned home. Eight teens are attending from China this summer, Land said.
Regardless of where they're from, the kids say the program is a challenge.
"It's harder than I thought it would be," said Daniel Hodges, 13, of Ashland. "The heat, the PT, the smoking."
For the uninitiated, PT is physical training. "Smoking" is when instructors make recruits do extra PT for making mistakes.
But Daniel said the experience has been good and should help him as he pursues his dream of joining the Army or the Marine Corps.
Lisie Ramos, 16, came from Miami to attend the basic training course and will stay around until next month for the military police course. Lisie plans to spend time in the military and then become a civilian police officer.
"I think being here has taught me to appreciate more things," she said. "Now, when we present the colors and do the national anthem it really means a lot. You really want to serve your country."
Serena, who wants a military career, said she'll be back next year.
"Millersburg is such a cute, quiet town," she said. "Back home everything moves so fast, but you come here and it's really calm."