Honor, courage, commitment: Westminster teen vies for Marine award

By Beth Ward, Times Staff Writer

At age 16, Jason Schnitker has already spent half his life learning what it means to be a Marine.

Schnitker of Westminster is one of more than 20 boys and girls ranging in age from 8 to 17 who make up the Carroll County Young Marines.

The Young Marines, which started in 1958, has more than 240 units with 10,000 participants and 3,000 adult volunteers in 46 states, the District of Columbia, Germany and Japan, according to the organization’s Web site.

Schnitker, who recently earned the rank of battalion sergeant major, will travel to Reno, Nev., in June to compete for the title of Young Marine of the Year against the finalists from the other five divisions. Schnitker won at the state level and was selected to represent his division, which includes Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland and Delaware, at the national competition.

Prior to the competition, the six finalists will travel to Guam and Iwo Jima as part of the annual commemoration of the Battle of Iwo Jima, said Marine Col. Maurice Perdomo.

On Wednesday, the unit, which meets at Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 467 in Westminster, was reviewing commands that the members will teach their parents.

In addition to learning the history, customs and commands of the Marine Corps, the unit also is active in community service and drug use prevention, said Cpl. Ryan Artuso, a Marine reservist, who heads up the Westminster unit with Perdomo.

“They are learning the Marine Corps values of honor, courage and commitment and the Young Marine values of teamwork and leadership,” Artuso said.

Schnitker joined the Young Marines when he was 8 years old because his grandfather was a Marine, he said.

“He really inspired me,” he said.

Woodbine resident Carla Ralph’s two daughters, ages 12 and 13, are in the unit.

“It gives them discipline and it gets them around kids other than the ones at school,” she said.

Ralph said the girls joined because their brother was involved with the program for five years. He is now a Marine.

A future commitment to the military is not required, however, as only a handful of the participants go on to join a branch of the military, Perdomo said. Schnitker, a junior at Delone Catholic High School in McSherrystown, Pa., is in the minority, as he aspires to attend the U.S. Naval Academy and become a Marine pilot.

“I can’t stress enough it’s a great program for youth,” Schnitker said. “It’s not mandatory you go into the military afterward, but it’s a huge heads up in boot camp.”

Artuso said he got involved with the unit after returning from boot camp because he wanted to share his experiences with the Marines.

“I like to see the youth get involved whether they join the Marines or not. They want to have some discipline,” he said.

Reach staff writer Beth Ward at 410-751-5908 or beth.ward@carrollcountytimes.com.