Cryptologic Technician 1st Class Joe Faucher’s life took an unexpected and altruistic turn when he was a seaman apprentice and was “voluntold” to help with a local branch of the U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corps program near his Georgia duty station.

“You’re a seaman apprentice and I know you have nothing to do, so show up,” Faucher recalled the superior telling him. “I showed up and fell in love with the program.”

Since then, the 24-year-old native of Waterbury, Connecticut, has donated most of his off time to running the program, while mentoring the young people who pass through, actions that propelled him as a finalist for the 2018 Military Times Sailor of the Year.

The congressionally chartered program aims to give kids from the ages of 10 to 18 a better sense of what military life can entail, and what it may offer them.

In between deployments, Faucher has spent much of the past five years involved in the program, and rose to command its Augusta, Georgia, branch last year.

Along the way, he has devoted 20 hours a week on average to running the program and mentoring the youth, often using his leave time to drive volunteers and kids to training weekends that align with Naval Reserve drill weekend schedules.

“I literally have my own division or department that I’m responsible for outside of my Navy responsibilities,” he said.

Training for the young cadets can involve everything from boot camp to small boat operations, construction and cyber training, Faucher said.

While they have nothing to do with recruiting, Faucher said the aim is to get the kids to understand what a military career could offer.

But in between Faucher’s long days of signals and intelligence work, he has managed to add extra benefits to the program.

He implemented a series of programs that taught the kids current events and real-world skills, such as resume writing, checkbook balancing and how to do job interviews.

“Things they should learn in school, but they don’t,” Faucher said, adding that a similar program he went through as a youngster helped prepare him for the practical realities of adulthood. “I wanted to make sure I could take some of that and pass it on to the kids we were working with.”

While Faucher’s duties can be demanding, he feels he must do it to the best of his abilities.

“The program is only as good as the adult volunteers,” he said. “If the adults don’t lead by example, then the kids really aren’t going to get a whole lot out of the program.”

Faucher said the program has allowed him to hone leadership skills, something that isn’t always easy to do in his “E-5 heavy” Navy field.

“If you can lead kids, you can lead adults,” he said. “You can’t just tell them to do something. You have to show them why what they’re doing is valuable and what the benefit is to it.”

Along the way, Faucher has deployed several times, including aboard the amphibious transport dock Ponce.

He joined that ship’s crew in earning a combat action ribbon after Houthi rebels in Yemen fired missiles at the ship and several others in 2016.

Faucher is in the midst of transferring to Hawaii and said he plans to continue with the cadet program there.

The way he sees it, he can help instill important lessons in America’s youth who grow up in a society where partisan acrimony and tech addiction are the order of the day.

“This country is the most divided that it’s been in a long time,” he said. “We’re seeing a shift with technology where kids are raised with a smartphone in their hand.”

Imbuing kids with other skills they will need to succeed is tremendously gratifying, Faucher said.

“I have all these kids that I can look at and see that I made a difference in them,” he said. “Showing them that somebody who doesn’t know them at all can care about them is a really rewarding feeling.”

Faucher said he owes it all to Christian Soseman, the then-2nd class who originally voluntold him to get involved with the program.

“Getting that opportunity to make a difference in a kid’s life — it’s the most rewarding feeling that I’ve ever had,” he said.