CAMILLA — When the topic of Young Marines comes into conversations, the first question often asked is, “What are the Young Marines of Albany and Mitchell County?”
Young Marines of Albany and Mitchell County are a youth organization designed to help keep kids out of gangs, off drugs and away from negative influences of the communities within which they live so they can thrive. Children involved in the program range from the ages of 8 to 18.
Youths involved take on leadership roles ranging from Commanding Officer to Supply Sergeant. As Young Marines move up in rank and show initiative, they are given more responsibility. The goal of Young Marines is eventually for the youths to run the entire program apart from a few key positions staffed by adult volunteers.
Resounding shouts of “Sir, yes, sir!” can be heard echoing the Albany Unit on Saturdays. The Young Marines of Albany picked up a cycle of 80 new recruits on Feb. 6, 1999, the second largest group since the program began in October 1997. During February 1999, I accompanied my older siblings as they attended their Young Marine meetings. I became a Young Marine in 2004.
Each day starts with a firm verbal command to get into formation and get down to business by Drill Instructors, now called Instructors, dressed head to toe with camouflage uniforms, smoky hats, and spit-shined boots.
During the morning start, parents and guardians consult with the Albany Unit adult volunteers in the office regarding discipline problems and school progress. Arrangements are made for tutoring, visits to the home and to the school by the Instructors or Young Marines staff members. Parents find support in meeting others going through similar parenting challenges. They are highly encouraged to volunteer with office tasks, fundraisers, fitting uniforms, marching behind in parades, and special events. Mothers are needed and appreciated for dealing with the special needs of our young ladies.
Recruits are ordered upstairs to the squad bay classroom of the Corporal’s Course and lectured on the importance of discipline, leadership, and respect by Commanding Officer MSgt Lowman. He paces the length of the building listing his expectations of participants in his program. The youths listen intently to prevent from being singled out by Instructors for not doing so.
After being addressed by Instructors, the Commanding Officer and the Executive Officer, it is time for “chow,” a military term for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Recruits are marched to the base restaurant to “dine.” They are restricted from any sweets, pancakes with syrup or sodas. Keeping company beside them while waiting in line for chow is none other than their faithful Instructors, making sure manners are used and respect is shown to servers, cashiers and other patrons. It was not uncommon to hear, “Thank you, sir,” or “Pardon me, ma’am.”
After chow, recruits return to the classroom to learn the basics of drills and the positions of attention, parade rest, at ease, forward march and halt. Once lunch is digested, the kids are introduced to “the pit.” This is the place where attitudes are adjusted and self-respect and respect for others are developed. Recruits emerge from the pit with a new outlook on life. Before the day ends, Instructors will have firmly established themselves as authority figures who mean what they say.
By now, it is Saturday afternoon, and time to finish for the day. Before dismissal, recruits are privileged to watch the promotion of a Lance Corporal to the rank of Corporal. For those who fail to comprehend who is in charge, Instructors stay late to give them special attention in the pit.
The first day is crucial, because it helps to establish who is in charge and sets the tone for the rest of boot camp. Young Marines teaches respect, discipline, self-confidence and patriotism.
The first day in a Mitchell County Young Marines classroom is the same as my Albany Unit, the Instructors ensuring that the youths understand who is in charge. The Mitchell County Young Marines are slightly different from my Albany Unit as instruction takes place in 45-minute daily increments in classrooms inside a school environment. Although in a school the Instructors are Adult Volunteers with the National Office, and Instructors at Mitchell County Young Marines dress according to their unique positions: Academic, Band or Training Officers. Our Instructors continue to get down to business where the Young Marines are concerned, ensuring that discipline, respect, self-respect, self-confidence, leadership, patriotism, physical fitness and military history are learned to develop a well-rounded citizen.
When the Mitchell County Young Marines started, I was already a Staff Sergeant, a position of leadership. Mr. Adams asked me if I wanted to continue, and I wanted to. He asked me if I wanted to be promoted and allowed to go to the school that helped me be able to get promoted, and now, I’m a Gunnery Sergeant. Mr. Adams also asked me if I wanted to skip the ninth grade, and I said yes. Now, I’m in the Young Marines and in the 10th grade. I feel as if I’m accomplishing more than I could have realized, but I could not have done this without the help and support of my mom, Shirley Brown.
Volunteers put in many hours to help accomplish our goals. Parents find they gain as much or more from the program as their kids, because they know they are investing in the future leaders of our country. It is not necessary to have a background in military leadership to volunteer, although there are certain positions where military training is strongly advised. Volunteers are always needed for administrative positions, tutoring the youths, and other positions that are available.
If being a Young Marine sounds like a challenge you might be up to, contact Mitchell County Middle School at (229) 336-0980 and ask to speak with the Commanding Officer, MSgt Lowman or the Executive Officer, Valerie Moore.