The American Legion of New York recently welcomed Marines from across the state to advise and mentor young men participating in the annual weeklong Boys State conference.
The 1st Marine Corps District Marines traveled to the State University of New York in Morrisville to mentor and teach basic Marine Corps knowledge, such as close order drill and military appearance, to some of New York’s brightest young leaders as they learned how to positively impact society and involve themselves in public service, June 24- 28.
The primary objective of Boys State, now in its 75th year in New York, is to broaden the understanding of American governance and to instill a sense of patriotism in participants through interaction with peers and active duty Marines. As an added benefit, the Marines bring to Boys State a sense of urgency, discipline, and pride that helps the participants develop as a team, according to Capt. Jordan P. Then, Boys State Marine officer-in-charge who hails from Buffalo.
“I think Boys State gets something tremendous out of [the Marines],” Then said. “I think the Marines bring to Boy’s State motivation and they help build teamwork amongst the boys. What I saw when I got here was a thousand individuals. Now, what I see are 10 cohesive counties, 30 cohesive cities, and one cohesive state of citizens. The discipline and teamwork that these kids have developed with each other in such a short time is directly attributable to the great work the Marines have done.”
The Marines have a very pointed and direct influence on the environment at Boys State. Their primary mission, aside from leading their groups from event to event in formation, is to take the boys out of their comfort zone, and give them manageable challenges to overcome as a team, according to Then.
“Although the Marines here are not drill instructors, they are drilling these young men and they are putting a little more stress in their lives than they might feel at home with their parents,” he said. “Here, [the boys] are responsible for their living areas, their barracks, and they’re responsible for taking care of each other and pushing each other during [physical training]. So, they have these shared situations and shared difficult circumstances that the Marines put them through, and I think that really helps build their teamwork and cohesion.”
The Marines are assigned a group of 16- and 17-year-old young men who are going into their senior year in high school to teach the basics of marching and military bearing. The Marines ensure their group is where it is supposed to be on time and also answer questions about life in the Corps. The Marines emphasize the importance of teamwork, dedication, and respect.
With more than 1,000 attendees in 2012, Boys State was a large event with many moving parts and a tight schedule. Each of the boys were placed in a group, also known as counties, with about 100 other young men, led by one Marine. Each county was broken down into cities, and each boy was responsible for taking part in group and individual events throughout the week. To help facilitate the events, the Marines of each county marched their group from event to event and made sure all boys were staying involved.
Each of the Boys State attendees were nominated by a high school guidance counselor and sponsored by their local American Legion post. Each of the boys exceeded expectations both academically and in their communities and demonstrated a desire to learn more about civic service or, possibly, a career in the military. Through interaction with their Marines, the boys improved on deficiencies, and encouraged each other to be better, according to Shaheem E. Smith, an 18-year-old student at Albany High School.
“At the beginning of the week, I was giving up on myself during PT,” Smith said. “I went from giving up on Monday to coming here on Friday and doing the whole workout. Today I feel strong. The Marines made me a better man.”
The Marines helped give the boys a sense of direction during the week. Their accomplishments during drill, physical training, and during team events, were directly tied to the motivation the Marines provided.
“The other citizens got out of [the Marines] what I did,” Smith said. “We get a role model and someone to look up to, and when people have someone to look up to they know they have a reason and a place in the world. This is a great program and I definitely needed it to help people in my community and other communities become better people.”