MMA cadets kept busy during shelter-in-place

28 students remain at the Marine Military Academy in Harlingen. They continue their schoolwork until their graduation coming May 6 but have had to adapt to the new norms that COVID-19 has brought. However, the cadets now have more free time and get to do as many activities they can. Courtesy Photo

HARLINGEN — At Marine Military Academy, 28 cadets are left while they wait for their school year to end.

Though transitions have occurred since COVID-19 made an appearance in the Valley the cadets have gotten used to the change while also staying active.

Col. Christopher Dowling said that before Spring Break started he met with his team to discuss courses of action for the school.

Dowling said at that time uncertainty was present in conversations since it was a first reaction to a virus that was unknown.

“ A lot of people at that time were still trying to figure out what the virus was and what it was going to do to our school,” he said.

Dowling then released a letter for parents who were receiving their sons at home for Spring Break. In the letter he explained when the boys came back, they would be segregated into separate quarters for 14 days.

As the virus began to escalate in the Valley, Dowling said he knew Cameron County Judge Eddie Trevino Jr. was considering courses of action that could affect the school.

Because of that, he made the call to change and go into a remote learning status. Dowling said several students would have to be flying to return and he preferred to keep everyone safe.

“ I had students everywhere from San Francisco, China, France, New York City, all over the globe and immediately said we are not going to invite them back to protect the community and students and staff,” he said.

The boys will now be graduating two weeks early on May 6. Dowling said he then reached out to the Trevino’s office to obtain a letter for parents who were able to drive down to retrieve their sons.

“ Now they have letters that authorize them to get their sons as safely as possible,” he said.

The next semester that begins in the fall will resume as usual. However, Dowling said students will have their temperature taken right away and a three-day registration so that families are not mixed together in the same room.

While the boys wait they are kept busy. They have a curriculum for six days a week and are currently having a half day work.

“ Our teachers remain off campus but drill instructors live on campus and we wanted to keep that environment. They are able to swim, lift weights and play basketball because they were not introduced to an environment highly contagious,” he said.

One thing Dowling considered to be important is to keep his staff with work. He said three seamstresses and one of MMA’s barbers helped in making masks to provide to people who needed them.

“ We had older uniforms we started cutting up to make more masks. We are also making shields for Valley Baptist and their staff,” he said.

“ We felt obligated to do this in a compassionate manner. I think we have made 800 masks to date,” Dowling said.

“ The students are cutting up the fabric but have no skills in sewing but have been helping. We are real proud of giving back to our community. We want the kids to see the example,” he said.

Cadet Perspective

Before COVID-19 became a safety issue, MMA academy was the home of 250 cadets. But now, with 28 remaining, academy life has changed for those who have stayed and the boys who weren’t able to come back.

Amechi J. Obigwe, 17, from Vernon, Cadet 1st Lieutenant, said he first noticed the situation getting serious during Spring Break. He had to make the decision whether or not he should go back home.

“ As the situation kept evolving, I became increasingly worried, not for my sake, but for my friends and family back home. I wanted them to stay safe,” he said, which is why he stayed.

Obigwe said there have been some major changes since January, but not all for the worse.

The schedule now includes much more free time, which is something he enjoys.

“ My friends and I can hang out and do things such as play basketball, learn the guitar, or work out. There’s ample time for us to do our work as well, but it’s not structured as a typical school day, which is better. The downside to all these changes is not getting to see all my friends and subordinates. I still stay in touch with them, but it’s not the same,” he said.

“ I haven’t seen either of my parents since early January, but I stay in touch with them. I try to call them at least once a day,” Obigwe said.

For him, this extra time he has gotten allows him to work on self improvement.

“ I have more time now than I’ve ever had before at school, so I take the time to improve physically and mentally by playing basketball, lifting weights, changing my diet, and learning how to play the guitar,” he said.

However, adapting to the new school structure has become a challenge for him.

“ Now that everything is online, it all comes down to self-motivation, and senioritis isn’t a stranger to me. The workload isn’t really much different than before, but deadlines are more lenient. Difficult classes, like AP Calculus and AP Chemistry, feel more intense, since I don’t have my teachers constantly at my disposal, but whenever I do need help, they’re just a call away,” he said.

Obigwe said he hopes the number of people infected with COVID-19 goes down, and people find ways to combat the disease as a vaccine is being made.

But he also wishes to be able to enjoy how life used to be before it.

“ When everything goes back to normal, I want to go hang out with my friends back at home, maybe go somewhere nice to eat, and make the most out of the time we