Two years ago in Pensacola, Florida, when two youths approached his son and daughter about joining the U.S. Navy League Cadet Corps, Joseph Reagan, of Baton Rouge, wasn’t upset — only confused.

“I was a Marine for 13 years, came out here as a recruiter, and this is the type of program that as a Marine recruiter you’d think I’d know about,” he said. “I didn’t hear about it.”

Most kids and parents haven’t.

But when Kaitlyn, then 11, expressed interest, Reagan did more than inquire. Five months after his daughter, he signed up, too.

What Reagan discovered was a program for ages 11-13 that is more about instilling leadership skills than fostering an interest in the military — which is fine with Kaitlyn, who says she isn’t interested in continuing a family tradition that includes her father and mother, who served in the Air Force.

There has been a local Navy League Sea Cadets organization for ages 13-17 for several years, but the local organization for younger members, called Training Ship Red Wolf, began in 2012, the same year Reagan discovered it. There were four members when he came aboard as the second in command, a number that has grown to 19. Both groups are part of a national organization that began in 1958.

“These are cadets that want to do a little bit more,” Reagan said. “They want to push themselves a little bit further, and they do have a lot of fun doing it.”

In practical terms, that means a variety of community service projects — handing out programs and taking out the trash at a World War II re-enactment in Central, volunteering for similar duties at a Marine family day and Gold Star Mothers luncheon, and sorting food at the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank. Once a month, they hold drills that test them mentally and physically.

A recent outing near Amite involved reveille at 6 a.m., followed by a run to an obstacle course that continued the physical activity, then training in survival skills such as starting a fire with sticks and making a shelter from a poncho, plus learning how to escape and evade capture.

“I was a platoon sergeant,” Reagan said. “I trained men to go into war and led them, and they did great things. Working with the cadets, my wife’s big concern was, ‘You’re going to scare them away.’ ”

It hasn’t happened. Rather, some of the cadets have participated in five-day recruit orientation camps, where they visit a military base and the challenges are tougher. Among them was an 8mile run, something Kaitlyn had shown no interest in doing at home.

“What impressed me the most about it wasn’t the fact that they ran 8 miles. What impressed me the most is they told them they didn’t have to and they still did it,” Reagan said. “They were letting the younger ones turn around and take a shortcut, but they kept going and they pushed themselves. Especially with her: I try to take her out on runs all the time, and she hates running, and I have to trick her to run more than a mile. Rather than turn around, she pushed herself, and that’s what I see from these cadets, all of the cadets. They push themselves.

“They’re all having the maturity level you’re seeing with her. Their reason for joining wasn’t because, ‘I want to be in the Navy,’ wasn’t because, ‘I was bored on weekends.’ It was to do something more, to reach out, to get outside of their comfort zone.”

For information on the program, contact Reagan, (225) 281-8881.