“Two lines.” “Weaver, back,” are the commands. A dozen pairs of feet quickly shuffle into the proper formation as all, in unison, stand proudly at attention.
The Corporal giving the orders during this roll call stands a few heads shorter than his counterparts and is one of the youngest members of the group. Yet, he is the most senior ranking officer.
And, he’s only 11 years old.
“My mom and dad started it. I was always here, even when I wasn’t in the unit. One day, when I turned 8, I joined,” Dylan said during one of the unit’s regular weekly meetings at Simmons Elementary School.
“He was not a new recruit or a young marine,” Dylan’s mother, Michele Vogel, said of Dylan’s inadvertent involvement in her and her husband’s group during its eight-year life. “He was like our mascot.”
Michele, and her husband Guy, started the unit as a spinoff to another Young Marines unit that their older son had been involved in.
“They were treating kids like Marines, not Young Marines,” Dylan’s father said. “The first words out of our mouths are, ‘these are children, not Marines.’ ”
Young Marines origins
Even before the Vogels established their own local unit of Young Marines with just five kids eight years ago, the nationwide group – which is part of the Marine Corps League – was already in existence. Founded in 1958 with just one unit, the youth education and service program for boys and girls ages 8 to 18 has since grown to include more than 300 units with 10,000 youth and 3,000 adult volunteers, according to the Young Marines Web site.
Led by current and former military instructors, Young Marines learn discipline, teamwork, leadership and the importance of remaining drug-free.
Community service is paramount and that’s why the Vogels’ group of 18-20 Young Marines are commonly seen marching in parades, lending a hand at Graeme Park’s Celtic Heritage Festival in Horsham and offering support to local chapters of the Blue Knights’ Law Enforcement Motorcycle Club.
“We like to help other organizations raise their money,” Guy Vogel said.
The nonprofit group, which meets year-round, also fundraises to help cover books and uniforms for Young Marines unable to afford the expense, he said.
“When we do fundraisers, 100 percent of the money goes back into the group,” he said. “That’s what we’re here for, the kids. We’re not here for us.”
Marines in training
For some, like Cpl. Vladimir Korol, 13, of Willow Grove, being a Young Marine is a stepping stone of sorts into military service. A Young Marine since age 9 and a student at Valley Forge Military Academy, Vladimir, a Ukraine native, said he hopes to join either the Army or Navy after school.
Vladimir said community service and leadership development are the best parts of his experience with the Young Marines.
“In this world, you have to have leaders,” Vladimir said. “Without them, it’s nothing basically.”
Similar to branches of actual military service, the Young Marines participate in boot camps, drills and plenty of physical fitness. Vladimir joked that between his schooling and the Young Marines, he’s lost weight.
“This program is not for everybody,” he said. “You’ve got to be committed.”
Indeed. Richard J. Bryan Jr., a Marine Corps League Commandant and Young Marines instructor, said the program teaches kids discipline, values and the ability to “think on their own.”
“A lot of them have no discipline, no goals,” Bryan said of today’s youth. “If you’re not disciplined, you can’t survive in this world.”
Drills with a side of fun
Besides drills, marching, physical fitness and survival skills, the Young Marines cover another important part of being a kid – having fun.
Kelly Luskin, of Abington, said she enrolled her two boys in the Young Marines after searching the Internet for a resource to help “back up” the values she was trying to impress upon her kids.
But, with a trip to Washington D.C. in the works, and an outing to a Reading Phillies game as highlights, Luskin said her kids are having fun – while learning to be more respectful.
“When they put their uniform on, they stand a little taller,” Luskin said. “They’re proud of themselves.”
Lance Cpl. Shannon Dormer, 15, of Southampton, is having fun too – “beating” her older brother of 10 months, Michael, who joined the United Young Marines unit first.
“We just go head to head,” Shannon said of the siblings’ friendly competition selling raffle tickets and earning ribbons. So far, she has earned nine ribbons in the last three years, she pointed out proudly.
Besides one-upping her big bro, Shannon said being a role model to the younger Young Marines is a definite bonus.
“I like teaching the young kids,” Shannon said. “I feel important to them because they sort of look up to me.”
Having an ex-Marine for a father – and a Young Marines instructor – is likely helpful in keeping Shannon and her brother motivated. Of course, during Young Marines meetings, the siblings’ father has a different title.
“I’m not their dad when we’re here and they realize that,” fifth generation Marine Cpl. Tom Sasse said of Shannon and Michael. “I look at this more of an activity for them.”
If nothing else, Sasse and the other ex-military instructors serve as inspiration for Dylan, whose corporal rank is the highest in his unit. The pint-sized Young Marine, during a recent meeting, is authoritative in his line formation directions and roll call.
“When I grow up, I want to be in the Marines,” Dylan said afterward matter-of-factly.
Perhaps someday, but for now, as his father points out, Dylan is one of “the few, the proud, the Young Marines.”