New mission for Young Marines of Quinebaug Valley

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Pomfret - posted Tue., Apr. 19, 2011
Young Marine Corporal Eddie Partlow with Pomfret Recreation Director Barbara Gagnon. Photos by Denise Coffey.
Young Marine Corporal Eddie Partlow with Pomfret Recreation Director Barbara Gagnon. Photos by Denise Coffey.

Six Young Marines of Quinebaug Valley, dressed in camouflage uniforms and carrying brightly-colored Easter eggs, spread out over a field behind the Wolf Den Ranger office at 9 a.m. on April 16. Their mission: to hide more than 2,000 plastic eggs for the Pomfret Recreation Commission’s Easter egg hunt planned for 11 that morning.

Pomfret Recreation Department Director Barbara Gagnon and four members of the Recreation Commission gathered around the trunk of a car filling the plastic eggs. Young Marine Instructor Bill Schmidt gathered his troops. Together, Gagnon and Schmidt reviewed the boundaries of the fields in question. Children ages 8 through 10 had to search in a dense, wooded area along the outskirts of the campground. Six- and 7-year-olds had to hunt for their eggs in the edge of a pine wood. In the field where 4- and 5-year-olds would look, tufts of grass and small depressions would hide the eggs. The 1- to 3-year-olds had a big grassy space. The ground would turn pink and green and yellow with eggs left behind.

Each Young Marine was dressed in camouflage field jacket, uniform and head gear. Their uniform pants were tucked into black boots. They spread out across the fields, each one carrying a bag of 50 eggs at a time. In less than an hour, they were done. They would stay until the egg hunt was over and the last child left, one more service mission complete.

The Young Marines of Quinebaug Valley is part of a national Young Marine program for girls and boys ages 8 through high school graduation. There are more than 300 units nationwide. Each unit is an independent community- and service-oriented education program led by an adult volunteer. Joshua Kenney is the commanding officer for the Young Marines of Quinebaug Valley. Kenney started out in the Young Marine program when he was 12 years old. He’s been the CO for the YMQV since 2002.

There are two common misconceptions about the Young Marines, Kenney said. “One is that we are there to discipline kids. The other is that we are a recruitment tool,” he said. “I was in the military. I think it’s an honor to serve your country. I would love to see these kids join the military. But we are not a recruitment tool. We are here to show kids leadership skills.”

YMQV follows a national program. Lessons in orienteering, outdoor survival and Marine history are given. Members fulfill a series of fitness routines and complete community service hours.

Ed Partlow’s son has been in the YMQV for three years. His daughter recently aged out. He thinks his kids have learned some valuable lessons from their participation. “They learn about character, leadership and communication,” he said. “They learn responsibility, planning, and what’s really great is how they accomplish things without adult supervision. The adults stand on the side.”

The community service portion of the program has impressed him. He said his son put a message on Facebook for Young Marines to gather to help a retired teacher move some belongings out of a house. “They did that without any adult organization. They learn that when people are in need, you step up. You do it without being told.”

Young Marine Pfc. Travis Stringer is a student at Putnam Middle School. He and instructor Bill Schmidt were charged with hiding Easter eggs in the woods for the 8- to 10-year-olds. He followed an old stone wall and scouted trees for hiding spaces. He wants to join the Marines when he’s old enough.

When they were finished hiding their portion of eggs in the woods, Gagnon called over Young Marine Corporal Eddie Partlow. She gave him two silver eggs. “Make it a little harder to find these,” she told him. The silver eggs entitled the finder to an Easter basket, which Gagnon kept safe and secure in her car. Partlow took the eggs and set off.

A Young Marine for more than three years, Partlow is part way through a junior leadership program. “The program is more about taking discipline and work ethic and applying it to life to achieve what you want,” he said. He found the 13-week boot camp difficult, but challenging. “It shows you what you can do and how much you can do,” he said. “It gets rid of you saying, ‘I can’t.’”

Eventually all the Young Marines gravitated to the area where the Recreation Commission members were still hiding eggs. They helped finished the job. Gagnon was grateful for their assistance. They have been helping with the egg hunt for years. They also assist at the fishing derby held in June. Gagnon said that, without their help, the fishing derby operation would not go off smoothly.

“We have four weigh stations for four different age groups,” she said. “The Young Marines hold the weigh stations down. They’ll hold the fish and remove the hooks and weigh them.” It’s a job her commission members are happy to relinquish.

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