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Lance Cpl. Rita Navarro, a senior drill instructor for Camp Foster's Young Marine boot camp, shouts out commands to Austin Payne, 12, a seventh-grader at Lester Middle School, on the first Saturday of the boot camp Sept. 8.
Lance Cpl. Rita Navarro, a senior drill instructor for Camp Foster's Young Marine boot camp, shouts out commands to Austin Payne, 12, a seventh-grader at Lester Middle School, on the first Saturday of the boot camp Sept. 8. (Cindy Fisher / S&S)
Lance Cpl. Rita Navarro, a senior drill instructor for Camp Foster's Young Marine boot camp, shouts out commands to Austin Payne, 12, a seventh-grader at Lester Middle School, on the first Saturday of the boot camp Sept. 8.
Lance Cpl. Rita Navarro, a senior drill instructor for Camp Foster's Young Marine boot camp, shouts out commands to Austin Payne, 12, a seventh-grader at Lester Middle School, on the first Saturday of the boot camp Sept. 8. (Cindy Fisher / S&S)
Young Marine recruits stream out of the classroom at Young Marine drill instructor Lance Cpl. Matthew Slider's command on the first day of the Young Marine boot camp on Camp Foster.
Young Marine recruits stream out of the classroom at Young Marine drill instructor Lance Cpl. Matthew Slider's command on the first day of the Young Marine boot camp on Camp Foster. (Cindy Fisher / S&S)
The Camp Foster Young Marines, with some help from their parents and Marines who volunteer with the program, mow grass, rake leaves and clear the headstones at the Tomari International Cemetery in Naha on Sunday.
The Camp Foster Young Marines, with some help from their parents and Marines who volunteer with the program, mow grass, rake leaves and clear the headstones at the Tomari International Cemetery in Naha on Sunday. (Cindy Fisher / S&S)
Young Marine Joseph Brown, 11, a fifth-grader at Killin Elementary School, straightens the flag in front of a gravestone at Tomari International Cemetary in Naha on Sunday. He and his twin brother, who have been Young Marines for about a year, were at the cemetery with the Camp Foster Young Marine detachment to mow grass, rake leaves and clean up.
Young Marine Joseph Brown, 11, a fifth-grader at Killin Elementary School, straightens the flag in front of a gravestone at Tomari International Cemetary in Naha on Sunday. He and his twin brother, who have been Young Marines for about a year, were at the cemetery with the Camp Foster Young Marine detachment to mow grass, rake leaves and clean up. (Cindy Fisher / S&S)

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Silence shrouds the room and all eyes are locked on the three figures looming in front.

Furtive whispers and rustling occasionally break the silence as recruits squirm anxiously in their seats. Suddenly, the drill instructor’s voice booms: “Get out of my classroom!”

Chairs shuffle as recruits scramble to obey as a chorus of “Yes ma’am,” rings.

Not fast or loud enough.

“So you don’t want to sound off! Everybody get back in my seats,” the drill instructor yells.

No, this isn’t recruit training at Parris Island, S.C.

It was the first day of the Camp Foster Young Marine detachment’s “boot camp” for class 03-07, where the 20 recruits ranged in age from 8 to 12.

During the past 10 weeks the class met Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Marines volunteered as drill instructors and taught the kids Young Marine and Corps history and life and leadership skills — “being the best citizen you can be,” said detachment commander Staff Sgt. Dexter White, 26, with Manpower Information Systems Support Office 27.

Graduation day was Saturday.

Founded in 1958, Young Marines is a Corps-sponsored volunteer program designed to promote a healthy and drug-free lifestyle, White said. “It is not a recruiting program for the Marine Corps,” he added.

“A lot of them came here and they were timid and shy, now they are leading,” said White, who has volunteered with the program since 2002. “They have more maturity mentally.”

In part, White said this is due to some of the physical challenges the children have overcome: running a mile each Saturday, a three-mile hike and the Gauntlet, an overnight camping exercise during which they completed an obstacle course and practiced fire team movements.

When her daughter said she wanted to try Young Marines, “I was just really excited because I knew it would be good for her self-confidence,” said Bobbie Ludwig.

Ludwig said her daughter, 9-year-old Mekenzie Ludwig, a fourth-grader at Killin Elementary School, “was very hesitant” at the start of “boot camp.”

On Saturday Mekenzie “was just beaming,” Ludwig said, because of the “confidence-building, camaraderie and learning what she can achieve.”

It wasn’t all fun and games though, she said.

There were days when Mekenzie didn’t want to go. “It was shocking for her when the DIs yelled,” Ludwig said.

“It was hard,” Mekenzie said. “I learned about leadership and discipline. I learned some more strengths that were in my body.”

Nathanial Squires, 10, a fourth-grader it Killin Elementary School, said he learned to be more respectful.

Tammy Sisai said respect was a lesson also learned by her son Dylan, 9, and he also “has a little more pride in himself.”

Parental involvement is important so drill instructors can get feedback on how recruits behaved between each Saturday session.

White said children are expected to act like Young Marines every day, not just when they meet on Saturdays.

Once graduated, the new Young Marines are expected to attend Saturday drill with the rest of the Camp Foster detachment and continue to train, White said.

They participate in fundraisers and community projects, like Sunday’s visit to Tomari International Cemetery to mow grass, clean headstones, rake leaves and bag trash.

Ludwig said it’s been an experience that has taught her daughter “to strive for more.”

The next Young Marine recruit training is scheduled for January 2008. Call DSN 645-3397 for information about attending or volunteering.

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