Inspiration was close at hand when Brianna Cea needed an idea worthy of a Girl Scout Gold Award. Thoughts of the military, patriotism and public service came to mind, probably because they're in her DNA.
Cea, 17, a student at Ward Melville High School in East Setauket and one of Newsday's 12 Extraordinary Seniors, is a chief petty officer in the United States Naval Cadet Corps, which is based at the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Northport.
Her father, Brian, is a New York police sergeant who served in the Air Force and Army Reserves. He is also a descendant of Josiah Bartlett, a physician, Revolutionary War patriot and New Hampshire governor who was a signer of the Declaration of Independence.
The Gold Award is the Girl Scout's highest honor. To earn hers, Cea, of East Setauket, completed a twofold project -- the Operation Sisterhood campaign to bring more awareness to the roles of women in the military, and the Patriot League club, which promotes dedication to those who serve their country.
"I wanted to show kids that patriotism isn't an old-fashioned, right-wing conservative idea, and that by serving your community as an active citizen, everyone can be a patriot in their own way," Cea said.
She recalled falling in love with the military when she joined the Cadet Corps four years ago. "They really encourage the honor, courage and commitment lifestyle," Cea said of the military. "My parents always taught me the importance of honoring those who have sacrificed for us to be here today."
She and her fellow cadets wear naval uniforms and perform military drills, and Cea noted that she attended boot camp and advance training and learned to drive military vehicles. Still, she found that her gender meant she had to learn to do battle in an unexpected way.
"The male cadets would say not to put me in charge although I was the highest ranking in my group," Cea said. "That's something in the military culture; there are a lot more guys than girls. I was determined to show I could be as good or better than any male leading a mission. I gained respect."
With Operation Sisterhood, Cea and other girls visited Suffolk County youth groups and schools to conduct workshops on the history of women in the military.
"We showed girls can do anything," Cea said, and that there are a variety of jobs open to women in the military. Letters of support were written to women serving in Afghanistan, Kuwait, Iraq and the Korean peninsula.
The Patriot League club promotes and supports servicewomen and men through fundraisers and other activities.
Cea said she would like to be a Navy attorney and eventually enter politics. She will study political science at George Washington University or Binghamton University. Wherever she goes, she said, she's looking forward to "all of the opportunities that college yields and meeting students with the same interests you have."
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story gave the incorrect location of where the cadet corps is based.