1st Young Marines class graduates 'boot camp'
By Lance Cpl. Justin J. Shemanski
| | September 03, 2004
MCRD/ERR PARRIS ISLAND, S.C. --
After 12 demanding weeks of Marine Corps "Boot Camp," dozens of anxious youngsters from Class 1-04 crossed the stage to graduate as Parris Island's first class of Young Marines at the Depot Saturday.
Approximately 39 members, ranging from ages 8 - 17, walked across the stage with their brand-new, freshly-pressed uniforms to receive a certificate of participation and to have their boots bloused by their drill instructors, which signified their transformation into Young Marines.
To earn their new title, they had to go through 26 hours of training, which was led by a group of dedicated active-duty drill instructors, who volunteered three hours each Saturday to help guide the children through the recruit training-style program.
Throughout the duration of the program, the "recruits" were taught close order drill, Marine Corps history, customs and courtesies, military rank structure and they also went through several hours of physical training.
Colonel John Valentin, Depot Chief of Staff, took the floor as the guest speaker during the ceremony and congratulated his young audience on their success though the program.
"You were all here each week," he said. "You all made it through the classes and the physical training, but let me tell you what you didn't do ... you didn't quit. No matter how hard things may have gotten, you all stuck with it. It shows that anyone here will start what they finish and that quality will take you far in life."
Among others who attended the graduation were Col. Michael Kessler, the Young Marines National Director, and Master Gunnery Sgt. Donald Garland, Commandant of the Marine Corps League Yellow Footprints Detachment, who both took a few moments to offer their praises to the Young Marines for making it through the program. One of the graduates was Devon Yeager, 17.
"I had a really great time," he said "I figured this would be a good opportunity to see what being in the Marines is like. My father was a Marine, too, and that kind of has an influence on me to join after school, but I'm still thinking about it."
Yeager said his favorite part of the training was the drill, but was also quick to add that he did not really like all the yelling.
"The program is really a good builder of character," said Gunnery Sgt. Melvin Lewis, Young Marines senior drill instructor. "No mater what they decide to do later on in life, military or not, this program will make them a better person, and that's our goal. If we can just help one person stay on the right track in life, than this whole thing is worthwhile."
Lewis also said that the Young Marines will continue to train each week and receive more in depth training. He said they will continue to advance in drill, knowledge of the Corps, and will also spend nights aboard the Depot in squad bays, to get a firsthand look of a night of being a Marine Corps recruit.
Although Class 1-04 was Parris Island's first, the program has been around for nearly six decades. Members of the Brass City Detachment of the Marine Corps League established the first Young Marine Unit in 1958 in Waterbury, Conn. By 1962, the program had 1,500 nationwide, and by 1965, it was officially chartered by the Marine Corps League.
The Young Marines organization, which serves as the focal point for the U.S. Marine Youth Drug Demand Reduction Program, now has more than 11,000 members, and units can be found worldwide.