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SCHOOL DAYS : From Guns to Butter

August 22, 1993|Bill Manson

Where boots once marched, gardens for landscaping classes now stand. The old bar has become a sober classroom. The barracks are student dorms. And the officers' mess is now the culinary arts kitchen.

The Navy's old Ream Field, in Imperial Beach, is overrun with civilians.

By the Job Corps, to be precise. While the Navy still trains helicopter pilots on the field's landing area, the rest of the station is used by 680 members of the Job Corps, the residential educational and vocational training program for disadvantaged youths that started in 1965 as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson's vision for a Great Society.

In the 13 years since it opened, the center has grown considerably and now offers courses in 18 trades, ranging from restaurant cooking to carpentry to child care.

All but 20 of the students live at the center. Each stays two years, and, says Judi Curry, the vocations manager, "87% of our graduates get jobs immediately, even in this recession. They become taxpayers, not welfare users."

The federal effort to reduce the number of military bases in the post-Cold War era, Curry says, may offer the Job Corps a chance to grow as more base space becomes available. There are 109 Job Corps centers across the nation, six in California. Many centers are on unused bases. "Bases offer ready-made facilities for training and accommodation," she says. "They're ideal.

"I hear the Naval Training Center in San Diego is closing down," says Curry. (Its closure has been recommended by a federal commission.) Her eyes get that hungry look. "They have gr-r-reat kitchens in there."

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