A group of young people in Anne Arundel County are lending a helping hand in the community, honoring veterans and promoting a drug-free lifestyle. Who are these youth? They’re a service organization called the Anne Arundel Young Marines.
The national Young Marines program started in 1959. It was founded by U.S. Marines who wanted to train their children with some of the values of the Marine Corps while promoting leadership training and basic life skills.
The Anne Arundel Young Marines, open to youth ages 8 to 18 throughout the county, meets at American Legion Post 276 in Severn. As part of the national Young Marines, a Marine Corps League subsidiary organization, they mirror their namesakes in the military by wearing uniforms and moving up in rank as they achieve various skills and abilities. In 2022, the local group was named the Regimental Unit of the Year in Maryland for the second consecutive time.
In addition to keeping physically fit, Young Marines learn close-order drills, military history, citizenship, first aid, maps and compasses, nutrition, and public speaking. A big part of the Young Marines from the beginning has been helping young people live healthy lives, and that emphasis continues today. The Anne Arundel unit’s executive officer, Joan Taylor-Wheatley, said that not only are the youth encouraged to live healthy lives but they are also encouraged to teach and motivate their friends to strive for that lifestyle as well.
Although the Young Marines aren’t an official program of the U.S. Marine Corps and are a non-federal entity, Young Marines who have achieved the rank of sergeant are eligible to enlist in the military at a slightly higher rank.
Taylor-Wheatley began volunteering when her son joined the organization.
“Bladen was interested in anything military related from the time he was 6 to 7 years old,” Taylor-Wheatley said. “He signed up in 2016 as soon as he was 8.”
Like most parents, she dropped Bladen off at the meetings and picked him up later, but when leaders said they needed help, she gradually began volunteering. At first, she helped for Bladen’s sake, but then she fell in love with the program and began to really care about the kids.
"I love seeing them so excited when we graduate new recruits or give out ribbons — to see them take pride in themselves is a big deal,” Taylor-Wheatley said.
In addition to their regular drills, the Young Marines members serve the community. In October, they helped with a mobile food pantry at North Glen Community Church in Glen Burnie, packing and distributing about 800 pounds of food to more than 150 families.
Severna Park resident Barry Mager oversees the pantry at the Glen Burnie church, and he praised the assistance from the Young Marines.
“We were short on volunteers that month, and they were invaluable,” Mager said. “They worked as hard as the adults.”
The group’s service isn’t limited to food pantries, though. They attend an annual ceremony for veterans at Brightview Senior Living in Annapolis, where they eat lunch with residents.
“I really like to see them having conversations with the veterans,” Taylor-Wheatley said. “My son stood there with one man with his awards on him, and he and Bladen were comparing ribbons. I loved that.”
On Veterans Day, the group goes to Maryland Veterans Cemetery to place American flags on graves. They also participate in Independence Day parades, and in December, they partner with Wreaths Across America to place holiday decor on the graves of veterans.
The Young Marines group also hones life and survival skills, including CPR. They go camping, set up tents and build fires under supervision.
Caleb Missimore, an 8-year-old Severna Park resident, was officially recognized as the group’s newest “recruit” last month. He was all smiles at the ceremony, standing in uniform and accepting his certificate in front of other Young Marines, parents and friends. Caleb said he joined Young Marines because he loves his country, and he wants to get fit.
“I’ve made friends,” Caleb said.
Ray Sturm, a 2018 Marine Corps League Department of Maryland Marine of the Year, serves as the commander of the Anne Arundel Young Marines. Strum was elected as the head of the Anne Arundel group in March of last year after the former commander was transferred with the Air Force.
“I like how the program stresses leadership, teamwork and discipline,” Sturm said. “Once established, these traits will follow a Young Marine throughout their lives. It gives them the confidence to succeed, whether in giving a public presentation or giving commands at drill.”
Sturm also is pleased with the unit’s commitment to community service and their willingness to help.
“What they do outside of the program is staggering,” Sturm said. “We have a future Eagle Scout, church youth group leaders and school club officers in the unit. I am very proud of them.”
For more information, visit youngmarines.org/unit/annearundel/page or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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