Austin resident Robert O’Donnell wanted to make a difference in his community. He found inspiration after seeing his friend’s sons, who are part the Young Marines program.
“I was impressed by the way they carried themselves,” O’Donnell said.
From seeing the change the Young Marines program was making nationwide, O’Donnell wanted to bring it Scott County. He also knows firsthand the power of the discipline, leadership, and teamwork principles the military provides to individuals after serving 21 years in the Marines and National Guard. O’Donnell served as a primary marksman instructor for four years on Parris Island, S.C.
“The military teaches you how to carry yourself in public and respect. You can teach it to others,” O’Donnell said.
In 2017, O’Donnell became the unit commander and brought the Young Marines program to Scott County, the only Young Marines program in Southern Indiana south of Columbus, Ind. The first recruitment class graduated on Dec. 16 with 18 students completing the program.
The Young Marines program focuses on positively affecting America’s future through physical fitness, drills, teaching self-reliance, discipline, teamwork, and leadership, and promoting a healthy, drug-free lifestyle. The students learn to recite every drill, the definition of integrity, and doing the right thing when nobody’s watching, O’Donnell said. The students earn ribbons for each achievement, and they attach those ribbons to their uniforms.
“It gives them a sense of purpose,” O’Donnell said.
After graduation, the students teach the next class of recruits. The Young Marines meet for 13 weeks on Saturdays for a total of 26 hours, and students, ages 8 to 18, are eligible to sign up for the program. While many participants are from Scott County, it is not a requirement of the program.
“It’s centered around the military, but we’re not pushing the military on them,” O’Donnell said.
Upon graduating high school, the Young Marines can come back and help as adults, investing in the next generation of recruits.
Each adult volunteer goes through stringent background checks, O’Donnell said, and each adult oversees only 10 children. However, past military experience is not required to volunteer, and the Young Marines uses men and women to help with the program.
“We want to show kids better ways of doing things,” O’Donnell said. “We want to help them make something of themselves.”