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Sabrina Sammel, a participant of the Young Marines Program, is promoted to private first class by her parents during the graduation ceremony Jan. 23 at the Twentynine Palms Elementary School in Twentynine Palms, Calif. Three other children were also promoted to private first class during the ceremony.

Photo by Lance Cpl. Monica C. Erickson

Young Marines graduate boot camp, march to their future

23 Jan 2009 | Lance Cpl. Monica C. Erickson

Thirteen children who made up the first class of the Twentynine Palms, Calif., Young Marines, the Mojave Vipers, ended their recruit training with a graduation ceremony at Twentynine Palms Elementary School Jan. 23.

Similar to Marine Corps standards, after a child completes their recruit training, they can then rise through the ranks of the Young Marines, by earning medals and ribbons for demonstrating their Marine Corps knowledge and leadership, and helping out in the community through volunteer service with their unit.

At the graduation, as each child stood to be handed their certificate, four children who excelled above their peers were promoted to private first class, giving their parents an opportunity to pin on their first rank.

“It was a lot of fun, but really hard work,” said Anna Sammel, a 14-year-old who was the honor graduate of the Mojave Vipers, and was promoted to private first class. “It felt really great knowing the ones who put out 150 percent were recognized, showing all the hard work they put into our unit during our training.”

During their recruit training, the children, ranging from 8 to 14 years of age, met every Friday for three months attending a variety of classes, performing modified physical fitness tests and learning close order drill.

“They had to complete 56 hours of boot camp to graduate,” said Staff Sgt. Daniel Montague, the Mojave Vipers commanding officer. “We even had them standing one-hour fire watch when we did over-nighters.”

For their physical fitness test, the children had to complete a set amount of sit-ups in one minute. The number of sit-ups varied depending on the age of the child. They had to complete two separate stretch routines, a 30-foot shuttle run, their choice of pull-ups, push-ups or a flexed arm hang, and a one mile run. Children aged 8 and 9 had to run half a mile.

When the group could not meet at the elementary school, the children would hold classes at the Elks Lodge in Twentynine Palms.

“It was vigorous for them,” said Holly Byrne, the executive officer of the Mojave Vipers and a former Marine. “From the beginning to the end you see a drastic improvement ranging from their knowledge, to their drill movements and bearing.”

The classes they attended included customs and courtesies, Young Marine and Marine Corps history, the military rank structure, drug awareness and reduction class, land navigation, first aid, and desert survival.       

“When I first saw these kids, they were weak and shy,” said Staff Sgt. Trevor Jennings, the training officer for the Mojave Vipers. “Now I see them and they’re full of confidence, moving around sure of themselves.”

The Young Marine Program was created in 1959 with the overall mission to impact America’s future by providing quality youth programs that help develop its members into responsible citizens who enjoy and promote a healthy, drug-free lifestyle.

“They’re little kids growing right before your eyes,” said Byrne, a Pearland, Texas native. “It is very motivating for me to see them excel.”

The new Young Marines will continue that mission and participate in various community services and fundraisers. Each Young Marine must complete 240 hours of community service throughout the year.

The Mojave Vipers’ next recruit training is scheduled to begin in the summer. For more information on how to get involved, contact Montague at ymmontague@

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Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms