Young Marines graduate

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 20, 2013

By David Vitrano

RESERVE – At nine, the latest batch of recruits to graduate from St. John the Baptist Parish’s Young Marine program may have been the smallest thus far, but in some ways it is the most representative class to pass through yet.
That is because, now in its fourth year, the Young Marines program has reached a level of maturity that only time can offer. This time around, the recruits’ instructors were not just adults barking orders; they were also some of the older Young Marines who have stuck around and prospered in the program.
“Every one of (the recruits) passed without a problem,” said Commander Brian Bertrand. “That says a lot about these instructors.”
Having peers as instructors also helped the newest Young Marines see the sense of togetherness that exists among the ranks.
“It’s more than just training,” he said. “They’ve become part of our family.”
This achievement is especially notable as this year has been the program’s most challenging yet.
When the program started, then-Sheriff Wayne Jones and his office came on board as the primary financial backer of the parish unit. In March, however, Sheriff Mike Tregre ended this arrangement, opting to use that money for other Sheriff’s Office activities.
“We’ve had some bumps in the road, but we’re going to overcome these bumps,” said Bertrand. “From now on, it’s what we make of it.”
Bertrand said he does not want the costs associated with the program to impact or discourage participants, so the group will try to make up the shortfall through fundraising activities such as car washes, raffles and a spring golf tournament.
Luckily, Bertrand is not alone in his fight to keep the program alive. The parish itself has always been a backer of the Young Marines, and St. John Parish President Natalie Robottom spoke at the graduation ceremony.
“This is one of the most positive programs we have in our parish,” said Robottom. “We will continue to make sure the support is there.”
According to some of those currently participating in Young Marines, the program has influenced the direction of their lives for the better.
“I think it will help in the future,” said this year’s Young Marine of the Year Kenjatte Cannon. “My grades were slipping, and I had an attitude, and since I joined the program all that’s changed.”
One of this year’s standout graduates, Alex Walker, said he also joined to improve his discipline both at home and in school, and now he is a passionate believer in the program.
“I love Young Marines. I believe every person should be in it,” he said. “After I graduate college, I want to come back and be part of the staff.”
And if Bertrand has anything to say about it, the program will be here waiting for him.
“We’re not going anywhere,” he said. “Our future is bright because we’re going to do this together. I believe in this program, and I believe in the kids of St. John Parish.”
Those who graduated as part of Delta Platoon were Victoria Hebert, Cody Pellissier, Christian Schexnayder, Jordan Sitz, Jackson Steinkamp, Wesley Patterson, Tori Jones, Tristan Madere and Alex Walker.
Several awards were also handed out during the ceremony. These included the Physical Fitness and Academic Achievement awards, both awarded to Patterson, and the Most Improved Award, given to Sitz. Additionally, Walker was promoted to private first class.