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Navy chaplain, Lt. Cmdr. David Thames, serving for 3rd Marine Division, writes down teens thoughts on ways to positively and negatively interact with their peers during his session on “Getting Along.”

Navy chaplain, Lt. Cmdr. David Thames, serving for 3rd Marine Division, writes down teens thoughts on ways to positively and negatively interact with their peers during his session on “Getting Along.” (Natasha Lee / S&S)

Navy chaplain, Lt. Cmdr. David Thames, serving for 3rd Marine Division, writes down teens thoughts on ways to positively and negatively interact with their peers during his session on “Getting Along.”

Navy chaplain, Lt. Cmdr. David Thames, serving for 3rd Marine Division, writes down teens thoughts on ways to positively and negatively interact with their peers during his session on “Getting Along.” (Natasha Lee / S&S)

Teen LINKS participate test their Marine language skills during a quiz.

Teen LINKS participate test their Marine language skills during a quiz. (Natasha Lee / S&S)

CAMP COURTNEY, Okinawa - As a military brat, Melanie Cordova has moved 17 times.

The strain of constantly leaving behind friends and making new ones can be overwhelming for a 14-year-old like her.

But in the midst of all the shuffling and adjusting, there’s something comforting about each military base Melanie lives on.

"In the military community, you can always find people you can relate to," she said. "They’re used to the lifestyle and they understand."

Melanie and dozens of her peers shared their feelings and experiences during a Teen LINKS (Lifestyle, Insights, Networking, Knowledge and Skills) program Friday, a new Marine initiative kicking off at installations around the globe, organizers said.

The teens who attended the four-hour workshop at Camp Courtney said it was anything but boring.

Kelli McQuary, 13, said listening to instructors talk about having pride as a military child gave her a confidence boost.

"It’s so cool here. Everyone knows what you’re going through," she said. "I’m glad I came."

The workshop is modeled after the LINKS classes for Marine spouses, but tailored to address the needs of teens. About 25 teens from the various Okinawa bases participated in a day of games, discussions and sessions that covered topics ranging from navigating the base, places to hang out around the island, finances and how to get along with your peers.

The teens said having an outlet to share loneliness and disappointment during a parent’s deployment gave them an opportunity to connect.

Most could relate to a parent missing a baseball game, cheerleading competition, a birthday.

Sometimes you don’t realize how hard life can be, when your parents are not there, said Rosalie Cicchinelli, 13. After Rosalie’s father, a Marine, missed her 11th birthday because of an Iraq deployment, her grades slipped.

"I had to pick my grades up. He was only gone for like three months," she said. "I never knew it would be so different without him here."

The highlights of the program were sessions led by Maj. Gen. Robert B. Neller, commander of the 3rd Marine Division, and Navy chaplain, Lt. Cmdr. David Thames.

"I liked the general’s speech. He understood everything we were trying to talk about," said Dex Cicchinelli, 15.

Lanier Skalniak, 11, said the workshop was a great place to make new friends with common threads.

"Everybody is in the same situation. The general talked about how his kids feel the same as we do, even though he’s higher-ranking," she said.

Organizers hope to host Teen LINKS three to four times a year at the various Marine bases here.

LINKS trainer Leah Harrell said the group’s honesty and enthusiasm was impressive for the first-time workshop.

The program is sponsored by the Marine Corps Family Team Building.

"Sometimes we don’t give our teens enough credit. They’re smart and they have things to say," Harrell said.

Harrell said she hopes the dialogue continues.

"This LINKS class is a place to start. We don’t have all the answers," she said, "but we want to get them thinking and to know that they’re not alone."


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