November 8, 2012

MCAS Yuma helps Young Marines in growth, development

Story and photo by Cpl. Sean Dennison
Desert Warrior Staff
Cpl. Peter Pritchard, left, a Young Marine instructor and a native of Baton Rouge, La., gives the Yuma Young Marines a lesson on paintball safety at the Marine Corps Air Station Yuma paintball arena, Nov. 3. Active duty Marines aboard the air station are commonly called upon to help in the Young Marine program, a national drug-reduction curriculum.

Marine Corps Air Station Yuma hosted the local chapter of Young Marines, Nov. 2-3, to help foster positive development for the local youth.

Young Marines is a nationwide drug-reduction program that, according to its website, seeks to positively impact America’s future by providing quality youth development programs for boys and girls that nurtures and develops its members into responsible citizens who enjoy and promote a healthy, drug-free lifestyle.

Active-duty Marines volunteered their weekends to help the kids, whose ages run from 8-18, understand what it means to be a good leader. This particular event engaged the kids in military lifestyle, including setting up a bivouac, presenting hip pocket classes and eating breakfast at the chow hall.

Young Marine chapters are even structured like a basic military unit, including a commanding officer, and personnel representing administration, logistics and training.

“It’s a youth group, we try to assist your children in picking up some disciplined skills,” said Eleanor Saylas, the Yuma Young Marines commanding officer.

The Young Marines program falls under the Marine Corps League. Founded in 1959, by the Brass City detachment of the Marine Corps League in Waterbury, Conn, the Young Marines received its charter in 1965, and continued its affiliation with the MCL as well as becoming US Marine Corps drug demand reduction program for youth in July 1993. Since then it’s continued to influence today’s military and youth.

Despite Marines being in the program’s title, its enrollment is not comprised entirely of military dependents.

“The majority of families are civilian parents, so they have no clue about military,” said Saylas. “Their children are fascinated with the base.”

Saylas, a retired staff sergeant, stood up the Yuma chapter in 1997 after enrolling her children in the program while she was stationed in Washington, D.C., in 1996. She credits the program with helping her family through the rigors of military life.

“I said, ‘I like this’,” she said. “We had lots of kids, lots of help, everything was perfect.”

Since then the station has opened its gates for the kids and their parents. The station mess hall let the kids sample some military chow after they ran their physical fitness test, and Arizona Adventures allowed the kids to let loose on the station’s paintball arena.

While the kids were all smiles during these moments, they maintained a serious air while going through classes, courtesy of the Marines running them.

Young Marines features an academic structure reminiscent of boot camp, focusing on customs, courtesies and professionalism. This is to get the kids in the mindset that they are supposed to be examples to their community.

“People confuse this like we recruit for the Marine Corps,” said Hugh Rico, one of the Young Marines staff members and a 22-year Marine veteran. “We’re teaching kids how to live a healthy, drug-free lifestyle. The Marine Corps doesn’t tolerate drug use; it’s easy to bring that to this program,” he added.

It’s easy for the kids to take a lot out of the program.

“We do a lot of drill and a lot of (physical training), but it’s all about being here with friends,” said Cody Hartman, a young Marine. “The Marines help, and they’re fun too.”

“I want to help the community,” added Aidan DiMauro, another Young Marines. “I want to be a leader, too. I want to teach my brothers right from wrong.”

The kids display what they’ve learned to local and regional communities. They’ve competed in drill competitions, and are slated to march in this year’s Veterans Day Parade.

As for the individuals themselves, many will continue their path in the Young Marines until they become Marines themselves.

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