St. John’s Young Marines

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 5, 2010



RESERVE – At a time when most children are sleeping in or watching cartoons, a group of St. John the Baptist Parish area youth are spending their free weekend time in marching drills or obeying demands – and they keep coming back for more.

The group of about 20 boys and girls from ages 11 to 14 are the inaugural class of the St. John Parish Young Marines, a youth organization that promotes the mental, moral and physical development of its members.

“Essentially, it is the same principles learned in actual Marine training without the weapons and the combat,” said former Marine and current St. John Parish Sheriff’s deputy Sgt. Brian Bertrand, who serves as unit commander. “We are not preparing these kids to enroll in the Marines, we are simply instilling the values of good citizenship and appropriate discipline.”

Every other weekend since the beginning of April, the group has occupied a portable trailer space near Regala Park in Reserve where Bertrand and other adult leaders from the Sheriff’s Office hold classes on leadership, public speaking, drug resistance, life saving and survival skills. They are also taught how to march, how to present themselves in uniform and how to address people.

“There are a lot of ‘yes sirs’ and ‘no sirs’ in here, and it is always said with conviction and respect,” Bertrand said. “Each time one of the kids accomplishes one of the tasks set in front of them, they are given a uniform ribbon. It really gives them that feeling of being a Marine.”

Outside of the classroom, the Young Marines get instruction on physical fitness proper exercise regimens and proper marching skills. Bertrand and fellow commanders bark out orders and marching cadences, and the kids must follow suit.

“There are so many options and distractions now-a-days that can keep kids inside,” Bertrand said. “We are simply showing them what they can do to get outdoors more and live a healthier life.”

It is not a military style boot camp, but when the “recruits” achieve a specific number of goals or ribbons they have the chance to move up in rank, Bertrand said. But it depends on participation.

“No one gets left behind, but no one can just show up and expect to earn rank,” Bertrand said. “The have to show us they are willing to be a leader and take on some responsibility, and a lot of these kids are really motivated by that.”

According to the Young Marines national website, the program began in 1959 in Waterbury, Conn., by a group of Marines who wanted to get their sons involved in activities on the base. The program has grown into an organization that includes about 300 units across the nation and across the globe, with affiliates in Japan, Germany and Australia. Bertrand said the St. John branch is the newest unit in the United States.

Aside from a $20 fee for insurance, most of the funding for the program comes from federal grants through the Department of Homeland Security, which helps pay for classroom instruction and uniforms. Bertrand said the St. John unit receives additional support from the St. John Sheriff Wayne Jones, a luxury most area units do not enjoy.

“Other groups in the area, like units in Jefferson or Baton Rouge, have to hold car washes or bake sales to raise money when needed,” Bertrand said. “As our unit continues to grow, we plan to institute a series of fund raisers with all donations going to help our fellow area units. I think our unit understands that their duty as Young Marines is to never let another Young Marine down, and that would be a nice way to execute that core value.”

Jose Campuzano, executive officer for the St. John Young Marines, said the program is open to anyone interested, but it targets kids who may have borderline behavior problems.

“The program tends to get kids who get into minor trouble in school and just need to learn a bit of maturity,” said Campuzano, who has worked with Young Marines programs in Jefferson and Orleans parishes. “I know that what we are doing makes a difference because I see kids that I taught in the past and they have come a long way. They have made a good life for themselves.”

Bertrand said the parents love the program about as much as the children do.

“We get calls all the time from parents and teachers about how much of a difference they are seeing in behavior,” Bertrand said. “They see that the kids are excited about being a part of something, and that means a lot to them.”

Bertrand said the inaugural class, which concludes July 15, will be the only class in St. John this year. He said by next year he hopes to be able to hold at least two classes.

For information on the program, visit