"We are chartered by the Marine Corps League," said Jared Massengil, paymaster and supply officer for Young Marines. "We are one of their five nationwide youth programs, and we are the youth focal point for the Marine Corps Drug Demand Reduction efforts nationwide. We teach quarterly Drug Demand Reduction classes ... three hours a quarter."
Massengil said he originally became involved with the Young Marines on the parental level about two years ago after his oldest stepson brought news of the program after visiting a relative living on a military base.
"We got to looking up [Young Marines] and found there was a unit in Rome that had just been formed and we took him over there, checked out the program, and he got enrolled and went through basic training, and it's pretty much been a stair ladder climb since then."
Originally volunteering and eventually serving on staff in Rome with his wife, Adrienne, Massengil said they saw an increasing amount of interest in the Young Marines coming from Bartow County. Adrienne Massengil serves the local unit as Unit Adjutant.
"We saw a need in Bartow County [for Young Marines]," Massengil said. "We had numerous Young Marines from Euharlee and the Cartersville area in the Rome unit, and we saw a need in the Bartow County area, so eight of the staff members in Rome branched off [the Rome] unit and started the Etowah Valley unit here in Cartersville. We officially got our charter at the end of October . We've had one recruit class. We've graduated 15 recruits and have 15 new, active young marines and three transfers from the Rome unit, so we've got a total of 18 Young Marines and are currently registering for our second recruit class."
He said Young Marines covers a broad range of topics and areas of study, ranging from life skills and safety to marksmanship.
"We teach all different kinds of levels of personal qualifications, first aid, marksmanship -- the kids really love [marksmanship] -- they're currently going through a four-level training program for marksmanship safety, and eventually, marksmanship certification."
This Saturday, he said the Young Marines will be going to the Marine Corps Training Center in Marietta for a simulated rifle range operated by the Marine Corps.
"There's no projectile, there's no live rounds [in the simulation], it's basically a military/Marine Corps version of laser tag without shooting at each other," Massengil said. "You're basically shooting at holograms projected on a wall."
Massengil said Young Marines have the opportunity to increase in rank during the program through completion of guide books, with advancement to battalion or regimental or higher level ranks requiring a week at a Junior Leadership School "academy." He said an upcoming camp will be held at Smyrna, Tenn., at the National Guard Training center.
He said three current Young Marines have the opportunity to advance to sergeant this year.
"[The three Young Marines] could actually receive the rank of sergeant, but [advancing rank] is restrictive," Massengil said. "You can't go from corporal to sergeant until you go to the JLS academy."
Massengil explained there is an initial $100 fee up to basic training, followed by a $100 uniform fee as well as $5 monthly fees and general fees when required for activities. He said all Young Marines and registered staff are covered by national insurance.
"There are safety protocols in place to protect the children and youth in [the Young Marines] program," Massengil said.
He said, for example, no adult volunteers are allowed to have one-on-one time with any of the Young Marines and a registered female staff member must be present when there are female Young Marines.
"Those that are not registered members of the program have to be chaperoned for the safety of our membership," Massengil said.
Massengil said it was important for people to know the Young Marines does not recruit for the military service.
"We do not recruit for any branch of service, we are not a recruiting arm for the Marine Corps at all," Massengil said.
He added, however, the Young Marines does hold weight if one does pursue a career in the military.
"If a child achieves the rank of sergeant in our program and goes into the Marine Corps, when they graduate basic training in the Marine Corps they instantly get a grade promotion at graduation," Massengil said. "Instead of coming out of basic training as a private, they come out as a private first class, which is a great promotion and money in their pocket annually."
Martha Beltran, mother 8-year-old Jorge and Fatima Beltran, said the program has helped change her children's behavior by reiterating lessons she has taught at home.
"There are things we teach [our children] at home, but when there are other people in their life teaching [the same lessons], they really believe that it's right what they're being taught at home," said Beltran.
Twelve-year-old Tiffany Steinfeldt said she enjoys being in Young Marines because of a previous interest in the military and because of activities like games and cookouts. She also said being involved with Young Marines has helped her to become more assertive in her life.
"[Etowah Valley Young Marines] changed me around my family because I'm home schooled," Steinfeldt said. "My mom and dad see a difference in me. [Before Young Marines] if I got in trouble and I didn't do anything [to get in trouble], then I would stand back and take the punishment. But [after beginning Young Marines], I stand up and tell them [the truth]."
For more information on Young Marines, visit www.evym.org or call Jared Massengil or Adrienne Massengil, 678-918-6478 or 678-939-7504. Meetings are held at American Legion Carl Boyd Post 42.