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Kern County teens successfully graduate from 10-day Devil Pups Camp

Many adults may think that America's teens will not be prepared to lead this nation in the future because America's teens have all gone soft. Think again.

A summer camp that prepares young men and women, ages 14 to 17 for what life will bring them may seem like a valuable venue. However, it takes on a new meaning when it is instilled by sweat and by active-duty Marine Corps instructors yelling and hurrying these teens throughout their day and guiding them through their training.

That is exactly what happened for 319 teenagers from California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico and Utah at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton from July 13-22 this summer. The 10-day program ended with an impressive graduation and awards ceremony at the First Marine Division Parade Field on Saturday, July 22.

"Many thanks to Chevron Central California for making it possible for our Kern County teens to be part of this life transforming work," said Julio Garcia, one of several Liaison Representatives for Devil Pups. Garcia is a Kern County Sheriff's Deputy and thanked the Kern County Sheriff's Office and the Kern County Board of Supervisors for their support, as well.

The Devil Pups Youth Program for America was created in 1954 as a better way for teens to spend part of their summers in a military environment. U.S. Marines were referred to as "Devil Dogs" in World War I by enemy troops for their battlefield accomplishments and "never give up" spirit. The Devil Pups name is descended from this rich Marine Corps heritage.

Ten young men and women of this year's program hailed from Kern County: Aaron Araujo, Nevaeh Elsayed, Blaise Gremillion, Angelina Lacarra, Skyler Lopez, Carter McCarthy, Grace Navarrez, Miguel Orozco, Daniel Soto and Nigel Truitt.

Additionally, 14-year-old Soto received an award for attaining a perfect score of 400 points out of a possible 400 points in the Physical Fitness Test consisting of a one mile run, sit ups, pull ups and push ups. Under the watchful eyes and "encouragement" of specially screened and selected Marine Corps instructors camp participants complete days full of tasks like working up from a one-mile run to a 5 ½ mile beach run, 15 and 25 foot tower jumps into a swimming pool and a legendary, heart-pounding hike up "Old Smokey," a mountain overlooking the Camp Pendleton and the Pacific Ocean.

At the culmination of that hike, a challenge coin ceremony was conducted at sunset, presenting each successful participant with a keepsake of their accomplishments during their camp. This year's camp was held at Camp Talega, a base within Camp Pendleton, where the teens were housed in historic Quonset huts and was the filming location for the 1986 movie "Heartbreak Ridge" starring Clint Eastwood. These Quonset huts also served as one of the areas where South Vietnamese refugees were housed in the summer of 1975 during Operation New Arrivals. Marine Colonel Garrett Means, Commander of the Reserve Support Unit West/Deployment Processing Command was the reviewing officer for Saturday's parade and graduation.

Each day at camp began at "Oh my gosh, it's early," around 5 a.m. on most days. These teens slept in Marine Corps barracks and ate Marine Corps food. Running, hiking, close-order drill, leadership training and swimming were followed by role model speakers and more physical training. One Marine-oriented exercise was the Leadership Reaction Course where students learned problem solving techniques and team building. Most days also include conditioning hikes, and yet more physical fitness training. One night was also spent on bivouac, which is much like a camp out under the stars but without the campfire songs and marshmallows. The participants come across other teens from around the western U.S. and many develop lifelong friendships from these shared experiences.

The Devil Pups program is behaviorally oriented and tailored to build self confidence and discipline through a series of mental and physical challenges, and that is putting it lightly. Devil Pups strives to develop its participants, qualities of confidence, courage, self control, discipline, and good citizenship. Teens also attend classes on history, first aid, leadership, teamwork, and respect for others, their family, and their country.

Retired Marine Corps Colonel Trace Deneke, the Devil Pups Encampment Commander, states that graduates realize they can accomplish much more in life than they ever felt possible. He said that commitment and perseverance are two valuable traits the program seeks to instill in those who ultimately graduate from camp, in addition to learning how to overcome one's fear. Col. Deneke states the program's goal remains the same today as it was in 1954: "to develop better citizens, based on our philosophy of 'Growth Through Challenge.'"

Applications and tryouts for next summer's Devil Pups camp will begin in March 2024. For information about Devil Pups or how to apply, visit: http://www.devilpups.com or contact us at [email protected] or (661) 376-0271.