Swanton native Julia Horton will be following in the dedicated footsteps of her father Sean Horton and grandfather, beginning her life as a midshipman at the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis this week for Plebe Summer.

And on Tuesday as the world wakes up, the Hortons will already be on their way down to Annapolis, Maryland to drop the newest recruit off at her new home.

“They have this saying in the military, that you have to do something bigger than yourself,” Horton said. “You have to have people in life who are dedicated and willing to serve. That respect for honor and sacrifice needs to carry on, and that’s what I’m doing.”

As a junior in high school Horton completed the naval Summer Seminar which was when she felt the pull of tradition and her natural knack for success in the service.

“That was when I was really convinced,” Horton said. “You see all these kids who have these really strong bonds with one another…the teamwork, the leadership opportunities. I could see myself there, with them…And now that I’m going into the naval academy, the tradition lives on.”

After graduating from Mississquoi Valley Union High School in 2020, Julia Horton attended co-educational boarding school Peddie School in New Jersey where she spent a year preparing for her new career as a midshipman with the help of the naval Foundation program.

And while she was born in Burlington, Julia was raised on the action-packed stories of life overseas, and dreamed of the far and vast lands that her father

One chief engineer found her way to Military Sealift Command Far East as part of her professional and personal development.

Lt. Esmeraldy Arce, serving a one-year reserve assignment, cites career progression as just one of the benefits as both an action officer at MSC FE and as a contract mariner.

Currently, she manages the manning, training, and equipping of the Navy’s Combat Logistics Force operating throughout the 7th Fleet Area of Operations, which includes the Indian and Pacific Oceans. This oversight includes the administration, logistics, scheduling, and maintenance of MSC’s fleet oilers and ordnance and dry cargo vessels. Every day, she keeps a keen eye on each vessel, maintaining situational awareness of their locations, materiel conditions, and maintenance requirements.

“I am essentially the liaison between the MSCFE operations and the Combat Logistics Force,” Arce said.

“Without this position, there could be significant miscommunication and missed information between the assets and the command.”

Getting it right is what the Washington, DC, native has done throughout her career, ever since she graduated from the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in 2013. Right after she graduated, Arce went to work in the oil and gas industry as a third assistant engineer. With her Coast Guard chief engineer’s unlimited motors license, in her civilian job she is a contract mariner, working as a first assistant engineer or a chief engineer.

“I stayed in this industry because of the opportunity to progress in my career, the salary, and the rotational schedule.”

She achieves those goals not only with her civilian operating company but also when serving in the reserves. Arce affiliated with the reserves right after completing her degree at USMMA.

During past reserve active-duty-for-training, known as ADT, periods, she has served as an assistant port engineer, assisting the principal port engineer establish and maintain critical relationships with project managers. She’s also been a contracting officer representative, reviewing and monitoring a shipyard’s hospitality services.

“I had a great time especially because the ADTs were in locations where I could travel and see some really cool places when I had free time,” the mother of three said.

Why did you affiliate with the reserves?

I decided to involve myself more in the Navy because I would like to retire in the reserves. Serving my country when needed, various learning opportunities, traveling to places around the world, the benefits one receives, and the lifetime pension after serving 20 “good” years, I don’t think you can beat that. It requires some commitment, but what relationship doesn’t.

What would you say to someone considering the reserves?

I think it’s a great opportunity, and if you don’t mind giving up some of your personal time to complete your annual requirements, then go for it. The opportunities are endless.

What’s the most gratifying part of your job?

Getting an “outstanding job” from my upper management. Having your hard work being seen is awesome in itself, as not many people get recognition they deserve. That inspires me to continue

Fourth Class Midshipman Dane Vernor, a graduate of the Ennis High School Class of 2020, is living out his dream at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.

Nine months away from home at The Academy, and he beams, “I really like it here. Plebe year (definition: a newly entered cadet or freshman, especially at a military academy) is supposed to be the hardest experience you will have. The U.S. Naval system is trying to weed you out, to make sure the ones that remain really want to be there.”

Vernor continues, “There are a lot of things that I didn’t anticipate to happen – such as all the little things you do as a plebe – memorizing rates (which are details about USNA, the United States Naval Academy), chopping up and down the hallways (we must hustle everywhere we go and must take 90 degree angles to turn), etc. That’s all for preparation for becoming an officer in the future. Basically, this means dealing with adversity, to be rewarded in the end.”

As Vernor’s exams concluded and after his last semester was completed for his first year, he has now been moved-up in rank to “Third Class” Midshipman. He recently became a part of what is called “Sea Trials,” which is a capstone event for plebes.

Rigorous training programs

Vernor explains, “These Sea Trials are very rigorous, and I would say it was the hardest thing I’ve ever accomplished. We compete as companies and engage in about 15 different obstacle-type courses. Mixed into that are other types of fitness challenges like hand-to-hand combat wrestling.

“For instance, I was chosen to do the bench press challenge for my company. I placed third with 35 reps at 155 pounds out of 30 companies. (The winner was an actual power lifter, but I beat him head-to-head on wrestling, as I forced his head into the ground and made him tap-out). During the course of the Sea Trials, it’s estimated that we run over the length of a marathon, and that is performed wearing combat boots. It was amazingly tough, but I felt an extreme sense of accomplishment when I completed the tasks.”

Dane Vernor, center, working hard in his training.

This summer, Vernor is in the midst of a program called “Protramid.” This training covers a sampling of all the different communities that the Navy has to offer.

The first week, he was learning all about submarines – how they integrate into the Navy and all the functions they perform. He was able to ride on a couple of them and see the insides.

Dane Vernor, at left, helps a friend suit up to get ready for more training exercises.

Vernor remarks, “The subs are truly amazing vessels. The next week I was part of the aviation crews. We flew with pilots on several different aircraft to test those – helicopters, prop planes, and jets of all sizes. This week I’m to be working with the Marine Corps. We’ll learn about all their different duties and activities. From there, we’ll go rucking (“rucking” is the military term for hiking under load) and several other events

Students self-direct their learning and work at a pace that’s comfortable for them. The teachers make sure students stay on track and guide them through their lessons.

“Because of all the COVID stuff I wanted to be able to actually get my school work done and be able to have some extra time afterwards,” Sickels said, which is why he made the switch.

“It was very good. I got ahead of everything and basically right now I don’t have anything more to do,” he said. “I’m done with school and just have to wait for graduation.”

He missed the art, building and machine classes he took at Mark Morris, as well as being on the water polo team. COVID-19 made most of those classes more difficult to take, he said.

“Some of my favorite memories were probably the first time I was in water polo and I got to meet up with the team,” Sickels said.

Teamwork will play a big role in the next phase of his life, he said.

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“I’ve learned that in order for things to function properly you have to have teamwork,” he said. “That was one of my problems. I usually want to do things on my own, but going into the Navy I will have to work as a team. It’s going to be difficult at first.”

Sickels loves swimming and wants to travel, so the Navy seemed like the perfect choice for him after finishing high school as one of Longview Virtual Academy’s first graduates.

There were half a dozen roadblocks that could have kept “Hunger Ward” from being filmed, according to producer Michael Scheuerman.

Getting visas so the film crew could travel to Yemen to make the documentary took six months. Hours before that journey was to begin in January 2020, Iranian military officer Qasem Soleimani was killed by U.S. forces, raising fears that the situation abroad may preclude the documentary crew from doing its work. 

The filmmakers, including University of Iowa graduate Scheuerman, prevailed, bringing “Hunger Ward” to the screen. The film directed by Skye Fitzgerald is now one of the five movies up for Best Documentary Short Subject at the April 25 Academy Awards.

A poster for the academy award nominated short documentary "Hunger Ward."

The film documents what the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund refers to as “the largest humanitarian crisis in the world.” In Yemen, where civil war has been raging for six years, “more than 24 million people – some 80 percent of the population — (are) in need of humanitarian assistance,” the U.N. said.

The 40-minute film follows health-care workers and children in therapeutic feeding centers in Yemen, illustrating some of the day-to-day struggles experienced over the course of the month Fitzgerald filmed in the country.

In the United States, Scheuerman is happy to see his movie being used to raise awareness of the situation in Yemen.

That’s because the U.S. has lent support to the coalition led by Saudi Arabia in the war in Yemen, despite early promises to end involvement.

Michael Sheuerman is a University of Iowa 1988 graduate who is also a producer on the Oscar nominated short documentary "Hunger Ward."

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Backed by Western allies, the Saudis have engaged in myriad airstrikes as well as an ongoing blockade that prevents aid from reaching Yemeni civilians.

“Hunger Ward” is an important reminder of what’s at stake in an African nation that is not often in the headlines, according to a Michigan State professor who has been using the film to spread awareness.

“Having this footage … it highlights the responsibility of U.S. citizens toward this,” said Shireen Al-Adeimi, who was born in Yemen and teaches in Michigan State’s College of Education. “This isn’t starvation or drought. This is man-made. (It’s the) worst humanitarian crisis on earth.”

Meanwhile, at the U.S. Capitol Iman Saleh of Detroit is leading a hunger strike while serving as general coordinator of the Yemeni Liberation Movement. Now more than two weeks into her strike, Saleh and her sister are part of ongoing pressure to get the administration of President Joe Biden to end the blockade. 

“I’ve been educating and telling people that this is absolutely not a peaceful form of protesting,” Saleh said. “For anyone to be backed into a corner, For anyone to be able to dry up their options and use hunger striking as a last resort is an extreme violation of the body — and therefore hunger striking is extremely violent.

“The Biden administration could end this blockade right now. He could make a phone call and it could end.”