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04-19-03, 05:35 PM #1
These kids clamor to follow the Marine Corps model
These kids clamor to follow
the Marine Corps model
Many parents of Young Marines
are serving in Iraq
By The Associated Press
Saturday April 19, 2003; 10:06 AM
CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- Marine Corps Capt. James Jones stared down a nervous private, an anxious boy wearing new camouflage and a worried look.
The 10-year-old had forged his mother's name on school papers, an act of disrespect that Jones wouldn't tolerate. He ordered the boy to remove his stripes, stripping the crying child of the rank he had earned as a Young Marine.
The Camp Lejeune Young Marines are one of 220 chapters of a 45-year-old group that teaches discipline and respect using the Marine Corps model.
The kids -- a mix of boys and girls between 8 and 18 -- meet at a base gym for 2 1/2 hours most Wednesday nights, with fund-raisers and camping trips on the weekends.
Jones, the group's commanding officer, has become a surrogate father to many of the 75 or so children in his unit, about half of whom are children of Marines.
More than half of Camp Lejeune's troops have been called to duty overseas during the Iraq war, and even in peacetime long deployments are common.
"When their father's away they just kind of rebel," said Michelle Tehas, whose husband was deployed in January. "I wanted them to do something."
The kids proudly wear camouflage uniforms, pants legs tucked in their boots and sleeves neatly rolled. They divide their meeting time between exercise and academics.
Jones quizzed them Wednesday about military history, partly stand-up comedian and partly hardcore taskmaster as he paced inside of a circle of about 35 children. Those who believed they knew the answers stood to reply.
If they hope to rise in rank, the pint-sized grunts must understand basic civics and learn the names of the most famous Marines, such as Chesty Puller and Archibald Henderson.
"Sir" or "ma'am" punctuates the end of every answer to adults or fellow Young Marines of higher rank.
The minimum age to join is 8. Cindy Rabidou's oldest son badgered her for a year before his eighth birthday to let him join; he's been a member for 41/2 years and his younger brother joined about two years ago.
"I was all for it," Rabidou said. "I like the structure. I like the encouragement. I like the fact that because Dad's a Marine and he's not always here, there's that male contact."
A new group of about 20 "recruits" joined the unit Wednesday, lining up in blue jeans and T-shirts under the direction of 30-year-veteran and former drill instructor Master Gunnery Sgt. Andrew Davis. They were taught to stand at attention, line up in military formation, and respond quickly, courteously and loudly when called upon.
Davis also gave them a taste of military sarcasm.
"How'd you get picked?" he asked 13-year-old Stephanie Mejia, who was chosen to lead the recruit group through drills.
"Sir, I don't know, sir," she shouted in reply.
"Neither do I."
He cautioned an 8-year-old with a stick-on tattoo not to return with it next week and threatened to trim the mini-Mohawk hairdo of another boy.
"Don't make me get my field knife," he said. "That's got to go."
The goal is not to intimidate or indoctrinate the children, Jones assured parents and visitors.
"This program is not designed to make your son or daughter a Marine, sailor or whatever," Jones told parents who brought their children for the first of nine Wednesday evenings of "boot camp." "I'm not really so much worried about the military aspects of the program."
Jones, who has sent three of his own four children through the program, believes it helps them become respectful, responsible and fit.
"This is about teaching," he said later. "This is about mentoring. It's not like Parris Island. We just do this because we love kids."
Throughout the evening, Jones took children aside to privately counsel them. He administered tests about land navigation techniques in addition to testing their history knowledge. He also had good-natured exchanges with some of the children and relied on the older members and military volunteers to provide the same sort of guidance.
"We use the military lifestyle and their core values to pressure them into good things," said Thomas Eggenspiller, the highest ranking member of the unit and the 2002 National Young Marine of the Year.
Eggenspiller, a 16-year-old sophomore at Jacksonville High School, is the son of a former Marine. His mother, a member of a National Guard military police unit, was called to active duty at Fort Bragg in January.
He plans a military career of his own after completing college.
Any signs of problem behavior are usually cured with a threat to take the child out of the program or simply tell Jones what's going on, Cathy Andrews said as she watched her 12-year-old daughter, Liz, and others race while carrying a friend fireman-style over their shoulders.
Jones makes it clear that he doesn't intend to replace parents, only to help them along. Sometimes, he knows it means making little boys cry by taking away something they've worked hard for.
"It's amazing how much these little pieces of plastic mean to them," he said, gently shaking the young forger's plastic stripes in his palm. "I'll give them back to him in a couple of weeks when he has his head on straight."
04-23-03, 09:17 PM #2
drifter, I remember at Camp Pendleton they had a summer program for young teens. I think they were call marine corp pups.
I thought we use to come back looking beat after a force march.
The hting was they all wanted to be marines and it gave them the chance to see what it was like. A really great program.
Semper FI DO or Die
04-29-03, 06:06 PM #3
Stories like that always amaze me. I've always been interested in the Corps, but I never knew about a Young Marines chapter near me...or I woulda joined when I was younger. It kinda makes me wish I had found out about one...but oh well...I'm in now, so I'm happy. But God bless those kids, they may someday be the backbone of the Corps, and that's what makes this story awesome. Drifter, sir...thanks for posting it.
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