Young Marines, Learning Important Lessons Early

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Hope Matters

Young Marines honor veterans with wreaths in Pensacola.

Private 1st Class Michaela Cantwell earned her way into boot camp by meeting application criteria and raising the necessary funds for a uniform and equipment. She cried after her first session. Not because it was too tough on her—but because she thought her mother would make her quit after hearing details of the tough regimen.

At just nine years old, Cantwell became an honor graduate of the Young Marines, joining 10,000 other members of America’s finest youth. The Marine Corps League began in 1958 with one unit of boys, and has grown to more than 300 units of boys and girls, with 3,000 adult volunteers worldwide. It’s open to any youngster over the age of 8 in good standing at school.

This month’s Wreaths Across America ceremony provided an excellent window into this military culture of kids, ranging from 8 to 17. This marked the Emerald Coast Young Marine’s 2nd year of participation. In helping to place 3,000 wreaths at Barrancas National Cemetery in Pensacola, Fla., they complemented the 400,000 wreaths dedicated to our fallen soldiers across America.

Led by 17-year old Sergeant Michael Warren, their 20-member unit stood in perfect formation, ready to honor the military leaders who came, and died, before them. Private 1st Class Cantwell presented the wreath for the “unknown soldier” at the ceremony.

Their newest Young Marine honor grad, Private 1st Class Lily Harris, joined the ranks in her big brothers’ footsteps. With one Marine brother having served five years, and the other one currently deployed with his Marine unit, you could say it runs in her blood—something Harris sharply understands at 11 years of age.

Living out the military courtesies and customs gained in boot camp shows up in various ways. Along with their participation in Wreaths Across America, they regularly carry out other community service acts. Families First is next on their list this month; the Young Marines will hand out gifts to over 400 children who have experienced hardship, abuse or neglect.

The unit’s leaders say Young Marine Sergeant Warren’s dedication is key in the Emerald Coast unit’s operations. Warren has also made plans for active duty Marine service after college.

The commitment, honor and service shown by the entire unit are reflective of the Young Marine Corps tenants. Their exemplary leadership, discipline and teamwork show qualities beyond their years.

Maryann Makekau is an Air Force veteran, spouse of a retired member, and mother of two grown military children. She’s also a children’s author and founder of Hope Matters.

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