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Federal Money "Put to Good Use" in Young Marines Program

By Staff Sgt. Kathleen T. Rhem, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 22, 1999 – Dozens of people in uniform attended the Secretary of Defense Community Drug Awareness Awards presentation at the Pentagon Oct. 20. But one group stood out from the crowd, mainly because they were a head shorter than almost everyone around them.

Eight members of the Young Marines, a volunteer youth group, proudly wore their battle dress uniforms, several sizes too large in some cases, as they watched the presentation. They all stood taller, though, when Ana Maria Salazar, deputy assistant secretary of defense for drug enforcement policy and support, praised the Young Marines as an example of America getting the "best bang for the buck" for its focus on leadership and strong anti-drug message.

Salazar's office helps fund the Young Marines program through a variable federal grant -- $1.4 million in 1999. Roughly 10,000 young people and 1,800 adult volunteers participate in units nationwide and in Okinawa, Japan, said Joseph E. Bles, inspector general of the group's national headquarters here.

In order to attend the ceremony, seven of the youths and an adult chaperone paid out of pocket, drove 12 hours from Fort Wayne, Ind., and slept on the floor of a local Marine Corps reserve center. A Northern Virginia Young Marine joined the seven Hoosiers at the Pentagon.

Bles said the Young Marines builds self-esteem and self- confidence by using military concepts to instill self- discipline. Several members of the Indiana group said they have seen examples that highlight the need for more such programs.

"I see a lot of problems in our community," 14-year-old Young Marine Cpl. Josh Pritchard said. "I just think that's really stupid. Young Marines teaches you to have respect for yourself so you know that you don't need any drugs to help you succeed in life.

Young Marine Cpl. Jon Kenworthy, also 14, said he's seen "all kinds of stuff happening." "There's a lot of weapons and people getting hurt," he said. "It's not a good scenario."

Young Marine Sgt. Paul Bracht, 16, said he tries to act as a role model for his peers. "During school, I get a lot of kids coming up to me to talk to me about their situations," he said. Whether the student's situation involves drugs, family problems or even just a difficult homework assignment, he said, "I always give 100 percent of my effort to them."

Bles explained that the trip had a special significance to Bracht. "Paul wants to get into the Naval Academy," he said. After the Pentagon event, the group toured the academy in Annapolis, Md.

"This trip is also encouragement for him not to give up his dream," Bles said. "A main part of our message is that you're not going to get into Annapolis if you're taking drugs and you don't do well in school."

Unit members are encouraged to make their school work a priority. Even though they missed a few days of classes to attend the awards presentation, "It's not a free lunch," Bles said. Older boys are required to write a five-page essay describing their trip and their impressions. The papers go to both their teachers and the Young Marines national headquarters. Younger members must give an oral presentation to their classes.

Despite the program's military focus, Bles said, they're not recruiting for the military services.

"These kids can do whatever they want when they leave the program," he said. "As long as they're good citizens, we're happy. We just want to send the message that it's OK to be a good kid."

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