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thedrifter
08-02-09, 09:06 AM
You're not going to cry, are you? SIR, NO SIR!
Saturday, August 01, 2009
By Steve Campbell
Times Staff Writer steve.campbell@htimes.com

Boot camp for Young Marines 'no cakewalk,' girl says

McKenna Wittkop, 9, wondered how her Marine Corps father earned his stripes.

So she went to boot camp. And liked it.

"The last day I didn't really want to leave," said McKenna, recalling a hot week of marching, scaling walls and taking loud orders from drill instructors.

McKenna was the only girl among the 17 Huntsville-area kids who attended the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in Parris Island, S.C., July 14-18. The kids, ages 9 to 16, form the Young Marines of North Alabama. They teamed with another Young Marine group from Georgia.

The week started with yelling from drill instructors. Then came intense physical training. Throughout the week, the Young Marines navigated obstacle courses and learned various military customs and procedures.

"No cakewalk," said McKenna, a private with the Young Marines.

The best part, she said, was a drill in which the Young Marines scaled down a 30-foot wall with a rope. The drill was one of the many ways the kids learned to conquer fear.

"Fear is not an option in the Marine Corps," said Cpl. Mitchell Stease, an eighth-grader at Discovery Middle School in Madison.

At one point, a Marine from one of the groups talked back to a drill instructor.

Big mistake.

"We got yelled at a lot," McKenna said. Then they had to do their drill over again. The same punishment came when a drill was done incorrectly or without enough intensity.

"If you mess up, the whole group is going to get in trouble," she said. "After a while, nobody messed up a lot.

"I learned that the Marine Corps is not a joke," she added. "They weren't joking when they said they don't put up with silliness."

For Mitchell, the camp fueled his patriotism.

"I love the Marine Corps. I just love this country, period," he said. Mitchell plans to become a Marine after high school.

The camp was also a crash course in acting like a responsible adult. Jim Austin, who serves as the finance director for the Young Marines, said the group emphasizes courtesy, responsibility and smart life choices at its monthly meetings. The camp is built on those teachings, he said.

The camp and monthly meetings, he said, are the closest thing the Young Marines get to being adults. "We're just trying to teach them some manners," he added.

McKenna now has a better understanding of what her dad, Gunnery Sgt. James Wittkop, had to go through when he went to boot camp. He's now serving in Iraq as part of Huntsville's Kilo Battery 2nd Battalion, 14th Marines.

Of course, the Young Marines camp was shorter and less intense than boot camp for adult Marine recruits. McKenna said the camp was about 5 percent as tough as real boot camp.

"I can't imagine what 100 percent would be."

Ellie