When his son was being bullied at school, Doug Smith turned to the Capital City Young Marines to help his child become more confident. The program was life-changing, Smith said, so he joined as a unit commander to pay it forward and help other kids. Here, he talks about how the group emphasizes service, fitness and friendship.
Q: The Young Marines group was introduced after World War II, and there are now more than 300 units in the United States, Japan and Germany. What’s the mission?
A: It gives kids an opportunity to learn how to be solid citizens. We’re not trying to make this a stepping stone for the military, but offer a really good place where they can be with friends, have a lot of fun and discipline in a structured environment.
Q: You lead a unit of 50 kids, ages 8 to 18. What does a typical meeting look like?
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A: We do 30 minutes of classroom instruction, 30 minutes outside, whether it’s running a mile or playing basketball, and then the last 30 minutes will be close order drill, marching or formation.
Q: What was going on with your son, Jude, when he was younger?
A: When my son was 8, he was getting bullied pretty badly. It was tough watching your son not want to get out of bed. We changed schools. Even though he was in a better situation, he didn’t have the confidence to make friends. My wife said when she and her brother were teenagers, he was involved in a program called the Young Marines. She did a little research and found out there was one here in the area.
Q: Did it help?
A: Right away we saw the difference. He was making friends. The older kids were taking care of the younger ones. They really took my son under their wing. It’s the absolute reason I’ve been involved in this program as long as I have and will continue. I really feel like it changed my son’s life. He’s now 17 and the public affairs correspondent for our division.
Q: Next month, you will step down after five years as unit commander into an administrative role. What have you learned?
A: Kids want to learn. They want to be led. It’s not like I have to force my way through to teach them. You always get this impression that teens are moody and angry, but it’s the kids that changed my son’s life, and they weren’t what I expected.
Q: One of the goals of the Young Marines is to reduce drug use among youth. How are you tackling that?
A: Once a month, we focus on the dangers of tobacco, alcoholism, prescription medication and other drugs. We like to keep it fresh and bring people in. We had the Cary Police Department come out. And the Raleigh office of the Drug Enforcement Administration worked it out with the National Guard for us to visit, and they taught the kids about how they use the Apache helicopters in drug sweeps. The kids got to operate the gears and wear the headsets and night vision gear. They just loved it.
Q: How do you find participants?
A: We don’t promote other than marching in parades and doing our own business, whether it’s patriotic events or something else. We do a lot of work with the USO and the Patriot Guard Riders.
Q: This organization changed your son; has it changed you?
A: It’s made me more patriotic. When I was in the Navy, I thought of it as just a job, but now I appreciate more what I had and what I did. It makes me want to teach these kids more about talking to veterans and showing their appreciation.
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Tar Heel of the Week – Doug Smith
Born: June 14, 1973, in Oshkosh, Wisconsin
Family: Married; 17-year-old son Jude; 15-year-old daughter Kerrigan
Military service: Navy
Occupation: Designer at FDR Engineers
Organization: Capital City Young Marines (capcityyoungmarines.org)