Cornett completes tour of Marine educators’ workshop
By CHRIS HARRIS, CJ Staff Writer Commonwealth Journal
Lot of kids think their principal is tough. The students at Somerset High School, however, have proof.
Wes Cornett, principal at SHS, recently completed a visit to the Marine Corps Educators Workshop, a grueling taste of what it’s like to be in boot camp for arguably the most hardcore branch of the U.S. Armed Forces.
“They put you through 13 weeks of boot camp in three days,” said Cornett, who’s helmed in the principal’s chair at SHS since June of 2011. “They wanted to make it as real as they can. ... It’s a wake-up call for a lot of people who have not been around that kind of stuff.”
Earlier this month, Cornett arrived in Savannah, Ga., then stayed the night and was bused in to Parris Island, the well-known Marine Corps installation in South Carolina. Cornett was up by 4:15 a.m. each day, eating breakfast and then on to the day’s business simulating what actual recruits go through during the camp experience — in formation at 5:30 a.m.
Cornett, a former football player at Lincoln County High School, actually wasn’t too fazed — his old high school coach had been a military man, and brought that type of mentality to practice. Still, Cornett couldn’t help one major impression being left on him: lots and lots of yelling.
“They (the drill sergeants) came out and did us as they did the recruits, screaming at us to get in formation,” said Cornett of his first experiences at the camp, one of 84 educators coming out from either Louisville or Cleveland. “It’s a little bit of intimidation (but) they’re trying to prepare us. Some people in the past have had a hard time with that. ... I was used to that as a motivating tool.”
The trip also provided a perfect example of gender equality. Cornett’s trip — an opportunity for school leadership training he heard about from school counselor Julie Morgan and recommended by Superintendent Boyd Randolph — took place just a couple of weeks before the U.S. lifted the ban on women in combat.
“Our drill instructor (for the Louisville group) was female; Cleveland’s was male. She could outdo him any day of the week,” said Cornett. “The commanding general of Parris Island was Lori Reynolds, the first ever (in that rank) in the history of the Marine Corps. She was a very impressive lady, very commanding. We gave her a lot of respect.”
Of course, Cornett went through the type of brutal obstacle courses one would expect. At age 45, Cornett keeps himself fit and didn’t find the physical challenges too much, although others in his group of educators did.
Also part of the experience was a swimming course — the second-largest in the world; a firing range (right up Cornett’s alley, as he said he “love(s) shooting guns”) with military-grade weaponry like M-16 rifles; combat with fighting sticks; life demonstrations of water survival techniques; ropes courses; touring a hanger with an F-18 fighter jet, and more.
“We were constantly moving, moving, moving,” said Cornett. “No downtime. No time to be board.”
Maybe the most rewarding part was talking to the actual recruits who were there at the island, going through boot camp for real. Cornett got to watch a battalion’s graduation, as well as the progress of recruits who were there, going through the 13-week process of three different phases, from the down-and-dirty basics to being a full-fledged Marine.
“They come from all backgrounds across the country,” said Cornett of the recruits. “Just being able to eat with know, get to know them was one of the highlights. ... Normally, they have to eat in silence and not talk to anyone from the outside, so it’s neat for them, and for us, to hear about how their life has changed in the last four or five weeks.”
The camp was designed to make individuals in the educational field better at leading their faculties and students. What Cornett took away from the “amazing experience” will surely pay dividends for Somerset High School down the road, and something he’d encourage other members of his staff to do as well.
“A lot (the aspects) of leadership that they talk about is being a team,” said Cornett. “You will live as a team, train as a team, eat and sleep as a team. ‘I’ and ‘me’ will no longer be part of your vocabulary. That stuck out with me a lot.
“People in leadership are expected to make a lot of decisions. We have a lot of people who support us as a team,” he added. “I told my staff that it was hard to put into words the impact this made on me. ... I didn’t know what to expect going in ... (but) it was a great experience.”