After years of training, drills and qualifying exams, Aragon High School juniors Samantha Wen and Jenna Ghaddar will be pinned Saturday as chief petty officers in the U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corps.

Members of the Corps’ Band of the West Division — the only Sea Cadet band in the country — Wen and Ghaddar both joined the program three years ago when they were in the eighth-grade. Only 2 percent of cadets ever achieve the rank of chief, and the ones who do don’t typically qualify until senior year.

Wen and Ghaddar’s achievement is also noteworthy as female cadets are underrepresented in the national program.

“As females, I want to inspire other young women to become chief,” Ghaddar said.

The band had originally formed as the Peninsula Boy Scout Band but retired Navy captain Timothy Cogan suggested they become a Sea Cadet band and it was commissioned in 2013. The Sea Cadet Corps is a national organization chartered by Congress and receives grant funding to support its various training and leadership programs. Students go through basic training at the Marine Corps’ Camp Pendleton in Oceanside or the Army’s Camp Parks in Dublin, getting up in the morning for calisthenics just like adult recruits. The cadets can sign up for advanced, optional training in technical and career fields such as seamanship, scuba diving, martial arts, aviation, cooking, engineering and more, if they want to earn rank and move up.

Cogan, the commanding officer of the Band of the West unit, said the program offers nearly all extracurricular activities available to students in one program.

“It’s like an apprenticeship for developing well-rounded young adults,” he said.

The Band of the West gets invited to venues such as the Navy Seal Foundation golf tournament at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Half Moon Bay, the 70th anniversary of Pearl Harbor in Hawaii and Fleet Week in San Francisco.

Wen, who plays bass clarinet in the band, competes on Aragon’s varsity volleyball and badminton teams and is the class vice president.

Ghaddar is the band’s tenor saxophonist. She competes on her school’s varsity swim team, and is lead saxophone in the school’s jazz ensemble.

Both are also members of BOTW’s Cyber Security Team, where they developed cyber security strategies to combat computer hacking. Their team made it to a National Finals competition in Baltimore last year.

For Ghaddar, traveling to a variety of training events around the country was a highlight of the program. “Meeting so many people across the country and seeing their lifestyles and family situations and learning why they joined the program gave me a unique perspective,” she said.

Wen especially values the leadership aspect of the program. “When I started, I was relatively timid,” she said. “All my trainings and climbing the ranks allowed my leadership skills to grow and that will benefit me the rest of my life.”

While the two teens will achieve the highest rank in the program this year, both plan to continue training and inspiring younger cadets next year when they’re high school seniors.

Ghaddar will be pinned by her mother and brother, a former sea cadet in Band of the West, and Wen will be pinned by her brother, also a former sea cadet in the band, along with her father, a lieutenant junior grade in the program.

The annual inspection, performance and rank promotion ceremony will be Feb. 3 at American Legion Post 105 in Redwood City.

“It’s a testimony to the hard work we’ve done over the past four years,” Wen said. “It’s a really big deal for us.”

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