MARINE CORPS LOGISTICS BASE ALBANY, Ga. -- "Sir, yes, sir," echoed near Covella Pond April 9-13 as local youth gathered for a week-long leadership class.
The Young Marines of Albany participated in various exercises designed to instill teamwork, initiative and leadership, said Anthony Meriweather, Young Marines instructor. The Young Marines were awake and ready no later than 6 a.m. each day, beginning with physical training.
"They did a daily seven [multiple cardiovascular exercises], ran a mile, push-ups, sit-ups and long jumps. Females hang on the bar [pull-up bar], and males do chin-up based on their ages," said Meriweather.
After clean-up and breakfast, they started class.
During the leadership week, the Young Marines learned first aid, drill, the Young Marine obligation and hymn, and land navigation. Volunteer officers from local police departments also taught classes on personal hygiene, sexual assault, child abuse, gangs and gang violence, school safety, obeying laws and making good decisions.
"We felt that these classes were necessary because a lot of kids aren't taught these things," said Meriweather, who has been a part of the Young Marines here for more than three years. "We open the classes up to adults as well, because a lot of times, parents don't know what's going on in the schools with gangs and things.
"Albany officials have zero tolerance on gangs and gang members," he said. "What they are trying to do is get kids away from that lifestyle because it's going nowhere."
Along with various classes, the Young Marines also took a field trip to Andersonville Memorial Park and another to Fort Benning in Columbus, Ga.
"When we take kids on a trip, that's a reward for doing the things they need to do to be a Young Marine," Meriweather said. "We've taken these kids to Virginia, Washington D.C., North Carolina, South Carolina -- basically all over the East Coast.
"A lot of these kids have never been outside of their neighborhood or city."
The mission of the Young Marines program is to educate and inspire the youth in the local community by promoting a healthy and drug-free lifestyle through instructional and adventurous activities.
The Young Marines program is a unique youth leadership program, which nurtures and develops citizens and instills the core values of honor, courage, and commitment.
The program is designed for children ages 8-20. They go through 13 weeks of Young Marines bootcamp (usually totaling 26 hours of training), similar to Marine Corps bootcamp, but on a smaller scale, said Meriweather. With the exception of weapons handling and hand-to-hand combat, Young Marines participate in the same activities as Marines do.
"Almost everything is alike," said Meriweather. "Rank is the same and they [Young Marines] earn it in a similar way -- they take a PFT [physical fitness test] and take [other] tests. But we add home and school evaluations.
"If we send an evaluation home and mom says he's not cleaning his room, and the school teacher says he's falling asleep in class and not doing homework, he's not getting promoted," he said.
Young Marines activities are held every Saturday from 7 a.m. until 2 p.m. The hours may soon be extended from Friday afternoon, after school, until Sunday morning, said Meriweather.
"There's not enough time to teach them everything they need to learn," he said.
The Young Marines program is available in 39 states, with more than 200 units nationwide, according to Meriweather, involving more than 14,000 Young Marines and 2,200 adults.
The total cost for the program is $200, which includes books, a canteen, a canteen cover, and uniform items. Once the child is in the program, he or she doesn't pay for anything else except food.
"Some of these kids may come from a home where the family is not financially able to do a lot, so we try to keep the cost down as much as possible," said Meriweather. "We give them however long they need to pay it, and if they can't, we don't worry about it.
"We try not to turn any kids away," he said.
Along with instructors, the Young Marines program here has a chaplain and a tutoring system.
"We instill in them [Young Marines] that education is very important and they've got to be positive within themselves," Meriweather said.
"We want leaders," he said. "We teach them that whatever their goals are, go for it. Don't let anyone hold them back from their dreams."
The next Young Marines class is set to begin Aug. 4. For more information about the program, call Pat Walsh, Young Marines commanding officer here, at 759-8194 or 869-9260.