Austin Cobbs parents werent so sure about his career choice when he decided as a 10-year-old that he wanted to be a Marine.
But Austin, now 17 and a junior at Cary High School, said his conviction won them over. His parents and two older brothers support him fully, and his father even volunteers with the Young Marines, an education and service program for boy and girls ages 8 through high school.
Austin, ranked a gunnery sergeant with the Young Marines, was recently named Young Marine of the Year for Division 3, which covers North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee and Alabama. Along with five other national division winners and two scholarship winners, he traveled to Guam and Iwo Jima earlier this month for the annual Reunion of Honor trip in which veterans return to the places they once fought.
He is also in the running for the national Young Marine of the Year award, which will be announced in May.
Austin hopes to earn a Naval ROTC scholarship to attend N.C. State. Eventually, he plans to become a Marine officer.
Q: How did you decide at such a young age that you wanted to join the Marines?
I researched the Marine Corps when I was about 10, and I knew that I wanted to do something with my life that would make a difference in the world.
I looked forward to the challenge, and I joined the Boy Scouts when I was 12. I realized almost immediately that Boy Scouts wasnt for me, so I sought out another group that had the qualities I wanted.
I joined the Young Marines on Feb. 23, 2009, when I was in seventh grade. The Young Marines welcomes young people ages 8 to 17, and we meet each week. We do physical activities like close order drill, as well as classroom activities covering Marine Corps history, map and compass, leadership and citizenship.
Q: When you joined, what was your favorite part of the program?
For the first 15 meetings, I was a recruit. Part of it was to sort out who really wanted to join and who didnt. I enjoyed the challenge and the opportunity to progress as a leader.
Q: Do you participate in the ROTC program at your high school?
I am in the NJROTC at Cary High School, too, but the majority of Young Marines are not.
Q: Have you gotten to travel quite a bit through the Young Marines?
Yes. Most of it has been last year and this year. I got the chance to attend the U.N. Consultation Day in New York. I spent one week with 19 other Young Marines, and we toured Fox News and explored sites in New York City.
I attended two weeks of leadership school in Norfolk (Va.). I attended a symposium in Washington, D.C. I have been to leadership schools in Orlando (Fla.), Parris Island (S.C.) and Quantico (Va.).
Q. How was your trip to Guam and Iwo Jima?
It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It was great meeting people from across the country and from around the world. My favorite part about the trip was getting to talk to the veterans who fought on Iwo Jima; I loved hearing their stories. I learned to respect our nations flag more, since Americans often forget the meaning of it and the sacrifices made for it.
Q: What has the Young Marines meant to you?
I have seen the impact I can have on these kids lives. I never would have believed, four years ago, that I would be here today. I have had some great volunteer leaders who have mentored me and set great examples.
Staff writer Stacy Chandler contributed to this story.
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