Ten “young marines,” ranging from ages 8 to 15, stood perfectly still and in formation as Tim Stratton, a retired U.S. Marines master sergeant and executive officer of the Santa Clarita Valley Young Marines, spoke at the graduation ceremony.
That morning, recruits had completed the final challenge of their four week long “basic recruit training” — or “boot camp” — were given their uniforms and were now being promoted to Private in the Young Marines program.
The SCV Young Marines are part of a national organization that allows boys and girls ages 8 through the completion of high school to develop mental, moral and physical disciplines and promote a healthy, drug-free lifestyle.
The program focuses on youth education and service while helping build character and leadership traits that will last throughout their lives, according to Stratton.
Sixteen-year-old Corporal Kiara Galvan Sayre has been in the program for nearly four years, and says Young Marines has helped her a lot with discipline and improving her grades.
“My mom ended up getting me into it because my grades were low and I wasn’t doing very well in school,” Sayre said. “But it’s been an interesting experience. I’m doing things that I normally would never do, and it helps me meet new people. I’m definitely going to continue on until I graduate out.”
The Young Marines are lead by adult volunteers, many of which are former military like Stratton who want to help instill the values they were taught in the military to the youth.
The program is structured similar to the Marines in the sense that there are ranks, and promotions are given to youth who meet all the requirements.
While the only membership requirement is that they must be in good standing at school and maintain a C average, according to Catherine Hagopian, Stratton’s wife and the SCV Young Marines event coordinator. And with each promotion, they must be signed off on all objectives for that rank.
This entails taking a certain number of classes, being current with their drug education, physical fitness and community service, and passing a written exam and oral board.
When they reach sergeant, they are then required to attend a week-long junior leadership school at Camp Pendleton. As they progress, members are also asked to travel to two-week-long senior and advanced leadership schools typically held at a base in Oregon and even required to teach four drug-education classes outside of the Young Marines before promoting.
Although 12-year-old Corporal Everett Krenz didn’t like the Young Marines at first when he joined at 8 years old, he now says he wants to continue until he’s 18, and will hopefully “have one of the highest ranks by then.”
“I like the classes and they teach us good information,” Krenz said. “Most kids vape and they do all this stuff. I like the drug-free introduction class because it teaches all these ‘Young Marines’ not to do that stuff.”
Throughout the year, the members of the young marines have the opportunity to travel across the country to places like Arizona, Colorado, Washington, D.C. and Hawaii.
Sayre’s favorite trip is Camp Morningstar where they get to go camping in Big Bear and meet other units.
They also can attend various national Young Marines summer programs, which include leadership courses, historical site visits, space academy, and survival and wilderness skill training. This offer “young marines” across the country the opportunity to gather with their peers and train as a large unit.
“The big thing is that it doesn’t cost them much,” Hagopian said. “They include airfare, lodging and your meals for a low cost.”
Brothers Private Hayden Kobayashi, 11, and Private Joshua Kobayashi, 15, just joined Young Marines and went through boot camp together.
“It looked fun, and I wanted to learn discipline because I don’t really have that much of it,” Hayden said. “I want to do the aviation programs because I want to be in the Air Force and eventually be a pilot.”
Joshua says he’s most excited to go to the specialty encampments, and according to their father, Rick Winer, both boys have an interest in aviation, and joined the program for the opportunity to participate in these specialty programs.
“They like aviation and this is a great lead into that,” Winer said.
During boot camp, the Kobayashi brothers and their fellow recruits learned Marine customs and courtesies, rank structure, history, close-order drill, and physical fitness all taught by the older members.
“It was hard, but it was fun,” Hayden said. “You just can’t slack off and you’ll be fine.”
The graduates of the Young Marines program have the opportunity to continue learning new skills and work toward ribbon awards, which they can then wear on their uniforms.
“They have to earn their ribbons,” Stratton said. “It can be anything from physical fitness and swimming to community service, academics and leadership.”
The program also gives participants various community service opportunities nearly every week.
“I like doing community service to help the community,” Krenz said. “Especially the ones we do with military families because you get to meet all the veterans.”
Throughout Santa Clarita, you can see the “young marines” presenting the colors at local sporting events, schools, churches, city hall, funerals and even in Fourth of July parades.
To learn more about the Santa Clarita Valley Young Marines, visit members.youngmarines.com/unit/santaclaritavalley/ or call commanding officer MSgt Juan Avalos at 858-229-1894.