MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, CALIF. --
Marines and sailors from Delta Company, 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, had an unorthodox day of work April 30.
They traveled to Poplar Elementary School in Fontana, Calif., to spend a day interacting and hanging out with the school’s students.
Their mission, however, wasn’t something unusual in the Marine Corps.
The Marines and sailors wanted to dedicate time volunteering on behalf of a fallen fellow Marine for Kathy Baucus, widow of Cpl. Phillip Baucus.
Baucus is a fourth-grade teacher at Poplar Elementary School.
In July 2006, Cpl. Baucus, a fellow Delta Company, 3rd LAR Marine, was killed in Iraq while conducting combat operations. Due to his valiant actions which saved the lives of several fellow Marines, he was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star Medal with a Combat V in August 2007.
In recognition of Baucus’ exemplary leadership and to honor his heroism, his fellow Delta Company Marines decided to volunteer their time at the school, said Cpl. Walter Bautista, vehicle commander from 3rd LAR.
Although Baucus said she believes the Marines see it that way, she sees it in a different light.
“I like to look at it as they are doing something Phillip would have loved,” said Baucus.
The Marines have visited the school since 2006 and have spent numerous hours on landscaping projects, painting murals and spending classroom time with the students.
“I blame it on the kids and the cookies,” joked Baucus about the unit’s return trips to the school.
The newest school mural, a painting of the American flag on a brick wall on the playground, was finished April 30 with the help of some students.
“When I am older, I want to be a Marine,” said 11-year-old fourth grader Raul Rosales as Marines autographed his notebook. “My older cousin inspired me. These guys do, too. They taught us that being a Marine isn’t just about shooting. They have to be responsible to be Marines.”
The volunteers focus on more than outdoor volunteer work, spending just as much time in the classroom, said Bautista, a Wichita, Kan. native.
“Last time we went to the school, we talked to the kids about what patriotism means to us,” he said. “We are going to try and make this trip once a month. We had to skip a few times when the battalion deployed, but now we’re getting back into it.”
The children are becoming progressively familiar with the lessons Marines stress to them.
“I like it when they come here because they help us with things we need help with,” said Selena Ramos, a fourth-grade student. “They say we need to stop goofing off with tests because you have to do a lot of those in high school.”
The men of Delta Company regularly teach the children about survival and medical facts.
“It’s usually Doc who does it,” said Baucus, referring to Petty Officer 3rd Class Jose Mata, a 3rd LAR corpsman Hiahleah, Fla., native. “Anytime I can make it more real-world for them, it’s better off for the kids.”
Baucus, a Helena, Mont., native, said she strongly believes in the positive impact the Marines and sailors have on the students.
“They do a very good job with the kids,” she said. “They’re major celebrities on campus. It’s hilarious.”
Although it may be the first time volunteering, Marines like Pfc. Jonathan Leon, a light armored vehicle crewman, said the interaction with the students is enough to bring them back again.
“I volunteered because I figured it would be fun to talk to the kids and help out around the school,” said Leon, a Pittsburg, Pa., native. “I would do this again.”
As Marines and sailors of 3rd LAR continue their tradition of visiting the youth of Poplar Elementary School, they also continue to influence and inspire the students they have come to know so well.
“They’re very good role models, and all kids need someone to look up to,” she said. “They have no idea what they mean to the kids.”