CORVALLIS - At a veterans event last fall, Sean Smothers and a fellow Marine began to think about the lack of military programs in the valley.
After thinking some more, they decided they would start their own program for teens in grade six to grade 12.
The program is meant to be a fun choice for youth, rather than a disciplinary transformation like Youth Challenge.
“We wanted to see if we could actually put together a program that would be for kids who wanted to participate in something to help develop leadership and become better citizens, like a JROTC type program," Smothers says.
Smothers served in the US Marine Corps for 20 years and knows how important leadership skills are for young people.
"It’s something that they can actually continue with and learn a lot from and develop a lot of leadership from," he says. "I think one of the hardest things for kids to do is lead other peers, and I think this program is going to help them with that.”
Despite his service already to the country, Smothers says he is excited to give back to the community.
“Honestly, it’s the idea of being able to give back. It’s the veterans doing something for the community," he says.
The program is still being developed, and won't begin until March 27. Parents are welcome to come to their initial orientation at Corvallis High School on March 4.
The goal of the veterans is to teach the value of citizenship, service to the United States, personal responsibility, self-confidence, and a sense of accomplishment, according to Smothers.
The program runs year-round every Saturday, and teens are welcome to participate in the program the day they graduate sixth grade to the day they graduate high school.
Smothers served with young kids overseas, so he knows that the youth have a lot of potential.
“I’m not one of those people who believe that the youth of America is all that bad," Smothers says. I’ve been deployed overseas with young men and women, and I think they’re great. And I think that America still has a really good chance and a really good opportunity to put our kids out there and they’re going to be the best that we can put out there.”
The daily schedule will likely begin with classroom instruction and end with physical training or activities, according to Smothers.
The curriculum will include history, civics and government, first aid, wilderness survival, basic military knowledge and online safety.
While it is structured with military history and appreciation in mind, Smothers says it is not a recruitment camp.
“The reality is the vast majority of kids who participate in a program like this actually don’t go to the military, but whatever they do go on to do, they do successfully.”
For William Fulbright, a veteran Marine involved with the program, knowing the history of the U.S. and its military is extremely important for kids.
“If you don’t know your history, you’re doomed to repeat it," he says. "If you do know your history, you can learn from it. “
Fulbright grew up in the area and went to Stevensville High School. He was excited to get on board with the Bitterroot Valley Military Program for an opportunity to positively influence youth.
“So to me, I’ve said for a while now, I think a lot of our problems as a nation could be fixed if we could just raise a generation that had integrity, courage, and commitment," he says. "One of the things I’m really looking forward to is the challenge of having someone who is not quite set in themselves yet. And having that, for lack of a better word, fresh clay that you can work with, where you can really impart the good habits rather than having to break bad habits.”
Another important aspect of the program is encouraging drug-free lives in teens.
“By having that drug-free organization, we’re simply trying to prevent you from doing something that harms yourself and harms our community as a whole," Kevin Holyfield, a Navy veteran involved with the program. "Hopefully by showing you that you can have friends, you can have respect, you can have leadership, you can have self-worth, that you won’t need this and you won’t need to go down that path.”
The program is a part of the American Legion Post 91, which has a long-standing relationship with the Corvallis School District. Superintendent Pete Joseph says they were very willing to help with the Bitterroot Valley Military Program.
“When you can provide that type of support, mentorship, leadership, to students, they grow from it," he says. "Maybe it opens up opportunities down the road for them, and I think, here at Corvallis, we are into having students that are well-rounded.”
Joseph says he is always looking for new ways to bring the community together.
“Frankly, it’s going to benefit all of our valley students that want to be involved, and I just think Corvallis is a good central location.”
There are currently nine veterans involved with this program. While they are primarily from the U.S. Marines and U.S. Navy, Hayfield says they are aiming to have veterans from all branches of the military. Having a variety of backgrounds will benefit the teens and give them several perspectives.
“Although we are all in the United States Military, there are still a lot of things that we do differently, so we’re going to have different experiences," he says. "So by having somebody from the Marine Corps, the Army, Air Force, etcetera, we can bring different understandings of the same problem.”
The program thus far has been funded from Smothers and his fellow veteran's pockets. They are not taking money from the school or taxpayers, but they would accept any donations from the community. The cost for uniform and classroom supplies will total about $250 per participant, and people have the opportunity to sponsor a kid.
“You know what? If we have community members who would like to donate and sponsor a kid… yeah they can reach out to us, we’d be happy to have them sponsor one kid two kids, however many they would like to," Smothers says.
The program is also looking for more veterans to volunteer their time.
“Please. We would love to have anybody and everybody. If you want to volunteer, if you want to donate, if you want to join the program," Holyfield says.
More information and sign-up directions can be found here.