WORTHINGTON — A nationwide youth organization created more than 50 years ago to instill citizenship, leadership, self-discipline and healthy living among children and teens is gearing up for its second local recruitment effort.
The Buffalo Ridge Young Marines, chartered locally last December by five former active duty Marine Corps members, graduated its first five recruits from boot camp in April, and now plans a second boot camp to start in July.
Dan Harrington, a computer science teacher at Worthington’s Prairie Elementary, helped form the Buffalo Ridge Young Marines chapter and now serves as its executive officer. He’s joined by Unit Commander Chitt Keophilalay, Adjutant Gary D. Stewart, Finance Manager Kim Hannan and Trainer John Stewart.
The next boot camp begins with an hour-long orientation for both parents and youths at 9:30 a.m. July 11 at Living Waters Covenant Church, 1645 S. Shore Drive, Worthington, with the first training scheduled from 8 a.m. to noon July 18. The group, open to boys and girls ages 8 to 18, meets every other Saturday from 8 a.m. to noon, Harrington said, adding that any youth in the region is welcome to join.
“We’re limited to as far as participants want to travel,” said Harrington, noting the next nearest Young Marines chapter is in Kansas City, Mo. “We have two families who travel from Sioux Falls, a couple from Fulda and a couple from Pipestone.”
While the name of the organization might imply this is a training program to prepare participants to join the Marine Corps, Harrington said that isn’t the case.
“As Marines, we learned self-discipline, respect for leadership, being comfortable to step outside our comfort zone and be willing to try things and not be afraid to fail,” he said. Those are the skills they want to instill in area youths.
“We also focus on citizenship, we’ve been practicing Color Guard … to march at athletic events like football games and local parades, and presenting at events,” Harrington added.
Harrington said the program also focuses on honoring veterans year-round and encouraging volunteerism in the community.
The five participants in the Buffalo Ridge Young Marines’ first boot camp learned to march in formation during close order drill exercises, learned about uniform regulations and grooming standards for Marines, as well as the history of both the Pledge of Allegiance and the National Anthem. Following a guidebook, the adult leaders led classes in military customs and courtesy, land navigation, drug resistance, leadership, citizenship and physical fitness.
In all, they completed 26 hours of recruit training, in addition to doing community service work both individually and as a group in order to graduate. One of their volunteer efforts was to help the Adrian American Legion place flags at the graves of veterans in Adrian cemeteries for Memorial Day.
Harrington said members of the Young Marines can earn ribbons for volunteerism and achieve rank in the same structure used by the Marine Corps. Once they’ve achieved a certain rank, they have the opportunity to attend division and national camps, including leadership camps and special experiences, such as attending Navajo Code Talkers Day at Window Rock, Arizona; leading the Pearl Harbor Memorial Day parade in Honolulu, Hawaii; visiting Iwo Jima; and greeting Honor Flight veterans in Washington, D.C.
The national Young Marines organization is currently led by Retired Marine Col. Bill Davis, a native of the Worthington area who now lives in Virginia, shared Harrington. Davis serves as the organization’s executive director and CEO.
Harrington said he learned of the Young Marines when he became commandant of the Buffalo Ridge Leathernecks Marine Corps League detachment, which was founded in 2018. He thought it would be a good way to introduce a military environment to youths.
“We have a lot of good youth programs in the area,” he said. “I wasn’t looking to take away from them, but just add something.”
Harrington admitted that he got into a lot of trouble as a teen simply because he was bored.
“If we’d had something like this, I wouldn’t have gotten into trouble as much,” he said. “When I joined the Marines, that really changed the way I thought about things.”
Harrington hopes one day to be able to grow the local group to about 20 members, and encourages anyone with questions to reach out to him at 360-7472 or Unit Commander Keophilalay at (507) 920-2042. The group has a Facebook page with pictures of past activities, as well as a website, buffaloridgeyoungmarines.com.