Thursday was Day One at Camp Pendleton for introducing teen Devil Pups to the Marine lifestyle, but Mark Arambula of Lemon Grove had already shown his determination by dropping 50 pounds to pass the program’s fitness test.
The 15-year-old, who attends San Diego High School, exercised daily for a year to meet the physical requirements, and Thursday joined 300 other youth from throughout the California, Arizona and Nevada who will be encamped at Camp Pendleton for 10 days of discipline, leadership training and team building.
“I want to be a firefighter,” Arambula said, "so I want to learn from this environment.” Although he anticipates “a lot of yelling,” he said he thought he would have fun.
Arambula, an 11th grader who comes from a military family, said he expected to learn discipline and teamwork.
Thomas M. Vetter, a retired lieutenant colonel who has been with the Devil Pup program for 51 years, said teens from 14 to 17 learn self-confidence, teamwork and respect for themselves and others. The program began in 1954.
“We each core values and ethics,” Vetter said. “It’s more of a mentoring system. We teach them to become better citizens.”
The participants get up before dawn, listen to speakers, run one to five miles near the coastline, maneuver obstacle courses, and climb a high peak, Old Smokey. Jumping from a 30-feet tower into 15 feet of water below has been an obstacle that have kept some youth from finishing the program on Day 8, instructors said.
“We don’t want them to give up,” said Sgt. Lakin Booker, who has taken on the role of drill sergeant this summer. “We give them support and help them push past (mental) walls.”
But they do try to give the participants a “boot camp-like experience,” Booker said, adding, “Every kid should go through this program. It instills discipline, and they learn to work as a team.”
Volunteer Katherine Kinnear , 17, of Newport Beach went through the encampment last month. “The hardest thing for some kids is adapting to people telling them what to do,” she said.
Kinnear said she liked the program because “I now have confidence in myself and my abilities.”
The Devil Pups is a non-profit organization not sponsored by the Marine Corps.