Young Marines group founded in Walkersville

The new Frederick County Young Marines Club, sponsored by the Marine Corps League, meets Wednesday evenings at the Walkersville Community Church. Russell Smith, far right, Frederick County Unit commander, gives some instruction to recruit Jay Leins, 12, of Walkersville, on how to do an about face. Also in formation are Cpl. Nicholas Smith, left, 14, of Ladiesburg, and Lance Cpl. Christopher Decker, 17, of Littlestown, Pa. (Frederick News-Post/Sam Yu)

Grandmothers and grandfathers aren’t often called “sir” or “ma’am” by their grandchildren.

But Laurie Garriss and Russell Smith, founders of the Frederick County Young Marines, aren’t your typical grandparents.

The Young Marines is a national organization, units of which can be found in all 50 states, Guam and nine other countries, Garriss said. Founded in 1959, it is a youth education and service program for boys and girl ages 8 and older, and focuses on promoting “the mental, moral and physical development of its members,” according to its website.

Though there are units in Edgewater, Westminster, Baltimore, Laurel and other places around the state, Frederick County was lacking until August, when Garriss and Smith split from the Gettysburg branch to form one closer to home.

The couple travel from just north of New Midway to Walkersville once a week to dedicate their time to what they believe is a noble cause. Their 14-year-old grandson, Walkersville High School freshman Nicholas Smith, is one of the three full-fledged members of the unit.

“Before I joined Young Marines, I was always the shy kid,” he said. “A wallflower.”

Having been a member of the Gettysburg unit since he was 9, he is now more outgoing, better at public speaking and more respectful to adults, he said. He is also better equipped to resist peer pressure.

He has earned the rank of corporal. A bonus for members like him who want to pursue a military career after aging out of the Young Marines is that achieving a certain rank would allow him to be bumped up a pay grade after completion of basic training.

Garriss said an average, hour-and- a-half meeting, which commences at 1900 hours (7 p.m.), could consist of a combination of drills, physical training, drug-resistance education and a military history lesson.

Annual events include everything from camp outs to amusement park visits, and members can earn ribbons that are similar to Boy Scout badges in things like marksmanship and swimming.

“We try to make it fun,” Garriss said.

Bonnie and Chris Leins, who have brought their 12-year-old son Jay out to the meetings a few times, are interested in building his confidence.

“He’s quiet, he’s shy,” Bonnie Leins said. “We just want him to be a little more extracurricular.”

Their older son, who is now 21, participated in a Navy Junior ROTC program at his high school, and as a result, “became more active and more involved,” she said. She hopes the Young Marines will have a similar effect on Jay, and provide him with good role models and a sense of being part of a team.

Christopher Decker, a 17-year-old member who is also a Boy Scout, said the Young Marines is a more disciplined, regimented group. For example, members wear “BDUs,” or camouflaged Battle Dress Uniforms, to meetings. They also have dress uniforms for formal events.

When new members join, “After the first couple of weeks, I see a change in them,” he said. In himself, he’s noticed more confidence and better grades.

So has his mother, Dot Decker.

“Teachers are amazed with his change in behavior and how he can lead a group. … It’s amazing how far he’s come.”

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