Parents, friends and instructors gathered on Veterans Day to celebrate the graduation of 21 young marines from a 13-week initiation.
The 21 boys and girls, between the ages of 8 and 18, celebrated the completion of boot camp and the newfound status they had in the program.
Ray Wise, commanding officer for the Alaska Young Marines, said the boot camp is held for six hours over 13 Saturdays.
Jenni Garrison, 13, of Nikiski, said her father put her and her brother in the program because he thought it would be good for them. She was one of only five female students at boot camp.
"It was the last thing on Earth I wanted to do," she said.
Garrison said her father told them it would be fun, but she was still reluctant to go.
Her first Saturday in the program was pretty tough, she said, but after a couple of weeks, she admitted it started to get more interesting.
Wise said the program has more boys in it than girls, but he credits that to the amount of physical stress involved with the boot camp.
"The boot camp is pretty harsh," Wise said.
The Young Marines started in 1958. The local program, which began in 1999, meets at the Elks Lodge in Soldotna.
Wise said the program teaches honor, commitment and devotion to duty.
During the boot camp, participants are expected to have a C average in school, honor their parents and show a willingness to complete the program.
Garrison said her Saturdays in boot camp were packed with physical training, classes to learn about military history, basic training exercises -- and still more physical training.
"We would do a lot of pushups," she said.
She said she learned responsibility and the need for constant cooperation.
"If one did something bad, we all did pushups," she said.
At the graduation ceremony, when the 21 graduates were commended for the previous 13 weeks, Garrison received the title of private first class. Two other students received high honors, including Michael Wirz, who was also given the rank of private first class, and Olaf Olson, who was an honor graduate. The remaining graduates earned the title of private.
Wise said the program is not a recruiting tool for the United States Marine Corps, and it is not for troubled kids. The program gives members leadership skills and a sense of accomplishment.
"It is just like active duty Marine Corps, you have to earn everything. But once you earn it, nobody can take it away."
But the program does prepare them for active duty if they wish to pursue it.
"The general orders we teach them are similar to the Marine Corps," he said.
The last test of the boot camp is the "crucible," a 24-hour test of military life and skills learned in previous weeks. Patches are awarded after the crucible is complete.
After completing the boot camp program, Garrison said she believes she is more mature. Also, she said she did not have a good relationship with her brother before they both entered the program, but now they get along better and have something in common.
But the program does not end with patches and boot camp. Young Marines meet every Saturday year-round and get training from groups such as firefighters, the United States Coast Guard and more.
Garrison said she is thinking about joining the military when she is old enough but currently plans to stay in the Young Marines program for a couple of more years.
She said she is now excited for Saturdays to come and is sorry about her past feelings toward the program and her father.
"I regret being mad at him," she said.
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