WARNER ROBINS — Jason Casanova grew up in an inner-city neighborhood and will quickly tell you he didn’t have much interest in school.
When he graduated high school, he joined the Marines.
“I joined the Marines to get away from school, but my first year and half was nothing but school,” he said.
While it wasn’t what he was expecting, it did turn his life around. The Marines taught him self discipline and the importance of education, and he went on to earn a master’s degree.
Now he hopes to instill the values he learned from the Marines in young people in Middle Georgia. Casanova and several other retired Marines are working to start the first local chapter of Young Marines.
It’s a national organization that Casanova describes as a cross between the Boy Scouts and Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps. Though sponsored by the Marines, it’s not meant to be a recruitment funnel.
The idea behind it is to help young people, ages 8 through high school, by teaching them the values of the Marines that Casanova credited with changing his outlook.
“I think it was that sense of belonging, that pride in being a Marine and learning how to be a leader ... all of those traits that just weren’t dialed in prior to that,” he said. “They brought out the best in me, and that’s what I hope to do for the kids in the community.”
The formation of the group is still in its infancy. Right now, the only members are his two children. He is planning to hold a parents meeting and orientation sometime in May. By July, he hopes to have a group to take to a statewide summer camp for Young Marines to be held at Camp John Hope in Macon County.
Casanova said he hopes to reach at-risk youth through the school system and juvenile courts.
The fee to join is $250, which includes uniforms and teaching materials, but Casanova said he hopes to do some fundraising to help those who may not be able to afford it.
If parents are thinking he is going to have children crawling under razor wire or rappelling down walls, that’s not the case. There will be no military tactics taught.
However, participants will learn military history and customs. The program also puts a heavy focus on the dangers of alcohol and drugs, as well as leadership and character.
Casanova served in the Marines for 10 years, including a stint in Afghanistan during the initial waves of action there. He now works in foreign military sales for General Electric, specializing in the propeller blades for the C-130J.
He has assembled a staff of several other retired Marines to assist in building the program. Casanova will serve as unit commander.
He is working on starting a website for the unit, to be called Warner Robins Young Marines. In the meantime, he said anyone who is interested should email firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 478-662-3876.
He expects to have a booth at the International City Family Fun Day at Tanner Park from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.