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British 'troops' get kicks at Blue Licks

Ryan Dabiri-Rad, 15, of Portsmouth, England, and his fellow cadets participated in an exercise that requires them to float for five minutes.

Ryan Dabiri-Rad, 15, of Portsmouth, England, and his fellow cadets participated in an exercise that requires them to float for five minutes. 

BLUE LICKS BATTLEFIELD STATE RESORT PARK — British troops were back at the Blue Licks Battlefield Thursday. But this time, it was all in fun.

The 35 or so "troops" were teenage British boys and girls — all members of the United Kingdom's Army Cadet Force — who were practicing combat survival skills at the park in Robertson County as part of a weeklong visit to Kentucky.

The British Cadet Force members, all from Hampshire and the Isle of Wight in the south of England, are guests of the U.S. Army Cadet Corps, a similar private organization for American youngsters that is based nearby on the campus of the former Millersburg Military Institute.

"It's been a really brilliant trip so far, everyone has been so welcoming," said Regimental Sgt. Major Roxanna Tustain, 18, of Southampton, England, after emerging, thoroughly soaked, from the park's swimming pool, where she'd just completed a "Ditch and Drop."

That's an exercise in which a cadet, in uniform and simulated combat gear, must flop backward into the pool, jettison gear while underwater and then surface, all without drowning. Not as easy as it looks, the cadets said.

Since arriving on Monday, the British cadets have practiced shooting firearms — something they rarely get to do back home — visited the state Capitol in Frankfort, been made Kentucky Colonels and performed community service work at a Millersburg park. They plan to go hiking and rock climbing in the Red River Gorge on Friday, before heading home early Monday.

During Thursday's training here, the cadets displayed an impressive knowledge of the Battle of Blue Licks, fought on this site Aug. 19, 1782. For example, Ryan Dabiri-Rad, 15, of Portsmouth, England, pointed out that Daniel Boone's son, Israel, died in the battle, in which British Loyalists and Indians ambushed and routed a Kentucky militia force.

The cadets' knowledge wasn't surprising, though, since each was expected to research state and area history before making the trip to Kentucky.

Joseph Ashworth, a 16-year-old cadet from the Isle of Wight, said he's particularly enjoying the state's scenery.

"Kentucky is just beautiful ... the landscape, the trees. You have bags of room here," he said. Joseph added, however, that he was a bit surprised to find that the grass in Kentucky doesn't really look blue.

"On Wednesday we were all made honorary colonels of Kentucky, and I am so, so pleased with that," he said. "That's the biggest honor I could have received."

Like many of his fellow cadets, Joseph is interested in a military career, and hopes to become an officer.

Cpl. Danielle Sanders, 15, who is from near Portsmouth, England, also wants to join the British Army after she completes medical school. Her mother, father and grandfather all served, she said.

The trip to Kentucky is the first joint exercise by the U.S. Army Cadet Corps and the Army Cadet Force.

Although not directly connected to the military, both organizations operate military-style training programs in their respective countries for youngsters roughly ages 12-18 who may be interested in military careers or want to experience some of the discipline and demands of military life. Many do enlist after their cadet days.

The Army Cadet Force, one of the United Kingdom's oldest youth organizations, has about 47,000 cadets and is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year. The U.S. Army Cadet Corps, which had its centennial last year, moved to Kentucky after buying the then-defunct Millersburg Military Institute in 2008.

Lt. Raymond Lee of Scotland, an adult leader who is accompanying the British cadets, said plans are under way for a group of Millersburg cadets to visit England and train with cadets there next summer.