WORTHINGTON — After months of hard work, the Buffalo Ridge Young Marines conducted a rank graduation ceremony last weekend.

The Young Marines is an organization that teaches youths between the ages of 8 and 18 basic Marine skills that they would learn in recruit training if they were to enlist. They learn leadership, discipline and confidence.

The Buffalo Ridge group, based in Worthington, is the only Young Marines chapter in the state of Minnesota. The local group is small and comprised the following Young Marines: Christian Merren, Brooklyn Tyrrell, Jeremiah Anderson, Aaron Giddings, Marlee Mitchell, Destiny Dibbern and Aidan Van Der Brink.

Sisters Tyrrell, 13, and Mitchell, 11, of Fulda, joined the Buffalo Ridge Young Marines when the local group was formed a little more than a year ago. Tyrrell said as she learned more about the different outdoor activities the group does, she got more and more excited to join.

She has most enjoyed learning to march and tie knots.

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"Everyone there is just so supportive," said Tyrrell, explaining that the youths encourage each other to do well and help each other improve their skills.

Making friends is another huge benefit to the program for Tyrrell, who just became a lance corporal Saturday. The local group spans a wide geographical area, drawing participants from as far as Sioux Falls, South Dakota and Rochester.

"If it wasn't for this bringing us together, we probably wouldn't know each other," she said.

Mom Mandy West said she likes the program because it encourages her daughters to volunteer in the community and teaches them to be more responsible.

"It's nice to see them get excited about it," West said.

The group's newest member — Van Der Brink, 12, of Worthington — has loved his experience, which began in July. He described Young Marines in one-word bursts: "Interesting. Tough. Strict. Physical."

Just a few months ago, Van Der Brink began his training as a nervous recruit. Now, the new private says he is confident.

One of the first physical challenges for the young man was running the mile. About halfway through, he began to get discouraged, but training officer John Stewart came alongside him and said, "You got this. Let's do it together."

Encouragement from his peers and the adult volunteers has helped Van Der Brink flourish in the Young Marines program.

Van Der Brink lives with both AD/HD and anxiety, which can both be fairly disruptive in his life. Through Young Marines, he says he has learned strategies to channel his energy and change his mindset. He described attending the Veterans Memorial Parade last year.

"My anxiety was through the roof," he said, "and Dan (Harrington, unit commander) came up and told me, 'You need to chill out.'"

That was a turning point in Van Der Brink's development.

"You've got to figure out to control it," he said of his anxiety.

These skills translate into other parts of his life, he added.

If the Young Marines make as far as the rank of sergeant and then enlist in the real Marines, they will automatically advance to the rank of private first class — three ranks higher than the typical recruit. Both Tyrrell and Van Der Brink are considering this path.

If they turn 18 and aren't interested in enlisting, the kids will still take with them the valuable skills they hone in the program.

Enrollment in the Buffalo Ridge Young Marines is currently open. For more information on joining, contact Harrington or Stewart.