APPLE VALLEY, Calif. --
Although Marines are known for their outstanding community service throughout the world, some might not think of putting youngsters through a scenario similar to Marine boot camp as typical.
In the Self-Discipline, Honor, Obedience, Character and Knowledge program, a 10-week juvenile intervention program conducted in Apple Valley, Calif., tough love is exactly the kind of community service expected from its volunteers.
The S.H.O.C.K. program was established in 2007 by the Apple Valley Youth Activities League and is run with the help of Apple Valley police officers, San Bernardino law enforcement and Marine Corps Logistics Base Barstow, Calif., Marines.
Most of the participants are between eight and 16 years old and were affiliated with gangs, drug dealers, or simply lacked discipline within their home lives.
According to Darren Gilmore, a deputy sheriff for San Bernardino County, the kids are just looking for a "good example and role model to guide them in the right direction."
“They need a mentor and that’s exactly what the program has provided them,” he added.
Headquarters Battalion, MCLB Barstow first sergeant, 1st Sgt. Darren Sullivan, Staff Sgt. Roy Gutierrez, Hq.Bn. logistics chief, Staff Sgt. Gerard Fillion, Hq.Bn. substance abuse control officer and Sgt. Louis Bourdony, Hq.Bn. armory noncommissioned officer in charge, volunteered their free time to the program during the summer and have made their presence known each Friday afternoon since.
“These kids have no foundation, so I wanted to contribute some of my time to them,” Gutierrez explained. “Whenever I can give back to the community, I’ll give back. That’s what being a Marine is all about.”
Michael Nitshi, a 16 year-old from Apple Valley, was enrolled in the program after he disrespected a teacher in school. His grades were plummeting until the program gave him the confidence and discipline he needed to bring them back up.
“I had really bad grades, but the program helped me a lot,” Nitshi said. “At first, I wanted out of the program, but it grew on me.”
After several weeks of S.H.O.C.K. training, Nitshi is looking forward to a new and brighter future and hopes to someday become a police officer.
S.H.O.C.K. uses several techniques to ensure the children successfully graduate the program, but the weapon of choice for the Marines is Marine Corps close order drill, a common tool used during Marine Corps Recruit Training to instill discipline and teamwork.
“Right”and “forward march”are only a couple of the commands the children have become very familiar with throughout their time interacting with the Barstow leathernecks.
According to Gutierrez, the drill movements instill values into the youngsters that many of them have likely never experienced.
Although the Marines dominate the discipline portion of the program, S.H.O.C.K. also has a variety of classes for the children, which include drug and alcohol prevention, gang awareness, leadership and teen pregnancy.
The program’s staff also offers classes to parents who are in need of parenting skills and guidance.
One step to getting the kids back on the right track is helping the parents and giving them the knowledge they need to help their children succeed, Gilmore said.
Frequent stops are made to the children’s homes by the program’s staff to check up on their progress and to show them that they care about their well-being.
“We’re making an impact in the community,” Gilmore said. “We’re changing lives in a positive way and are giving these kids role models.”
"It takes a lot of effort on the part of the officers, Marines and children taking part for the program to be successful, but it’s all worth it in the end," Gutierrez explained.
“After we arrive to the program and began to train them, some of the kids said they wanted to become Marines. It’s a lot of hard work, but we are getting through to them,” he added.