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Marine Corporal Named YMCA Volunteer of the Year

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 20, 1998 – Marine Corps Cpl. James Ferguson is this year's Armed Services YMCA National Volunteer of the Year.

Ferguson was honored for spending his free time helping young Marines, sailors and dependents at the YMCA's recreation center at the School of Infantry, Camp Pendleton, Calif. He received the award here on Capitol Hill during the Armed Services YMCA 11th annual recognition luncheon May 7. Congressional, military and corporate leaders lauded Ferguson's efforts.

Ferguson, 22, said his upbringing was the reason he volunteers. "My parents taught me how to respect and help others," he said. His father, a World War II veteran, died during Ferguson's freshman year of high school. His mother passed away the next year.

The El Paso, Texas, native moved to Las Cruces, N.M., to live with his sister and finish high school. A month after graduation, Ferguson joined the Marine Corps, following his father's footsteps into military service.

He called Marine infantry training the toughest time of his life and remembered being afraid of his drill instructors. Life was rough, he thought, but when his training was over, he realized how much he'd learned -- not to quit, to believe in himself and others, and most of all, how to endure.

Ferguson arrived at Camp Pendleton in February 1996 after a tour in Okinawa, Japan. He was taken aback one day when he saw two Quonset huts connected together with a sign, "Armed Services YMCA."

"A man walked out and said, 'Hey, come on in and relax!'" Ferguson recalled. "I saw Marines sitting on couches watching a movie on a big screen TV. They had all kinds of food and drinks in their hands. The first thing that came to mind was, 'I wish I had this when I was first here!'"

His parents' teachings clicked in. "I approached the man and asked him, where I can sign up to be a volunteer." He has spent off-duty time volunteering ever since.

Ferguson said 150 to 300 Marines visit the YMCA every weekend. "It offers them a place to come and relax, and it takes away some of the homesickness they're feeling," he said.

Some young Marines go to the center because they have nowhere else to go; others spend time there while recuperating from training injuries, Ferguson said.

"Some come because they're unsure of themselves -- some are scared," he said. "Many of them ask questions about the fleet, such as, 'What's it like being afloat and what's it like serving overseas?'"

He said sailors and dependents occasionally stop by to relax.

"We arrange trips to all the local amusement parks like Disneyland, Universal Studios and the San Diego Zoo," Ferguson said. "There's a game room with arcade games and pool tables. Many Marines have told me they wouldn't know what to do if the YMCA wasn't there. I just tell them, 'Come on in and relax!'"

Ferguson said the Armed Services YMCA gives him something to focus on during his off duty hours and makes him feel good knowing he is helping other Marines by giving them a safe, comfortable and fun place to be.

"It really makes me feel good when I help young Marines," he said. "To me, the School of Infantry YMCA is like my baby."

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