"Devil Pups," as the name might imply, isn't your average summer camp.
As the first caravan of mothers pulled up to camp, located on the Camp Pendleton Marine Corps base in San Diego, to drop off their children for the 10-day experience, many were not prepared for the "counselors" -- U.S. Marines -- who greeted them by promptly dragging their children out of the cars and marching them away without so much as a hug goodbye.
While that introduction to camp may sound harsh, the experience turned out to be a great one for many who participated, including Yosemite High School Cadet Corps members Ray Majeno, Nathan Williams and Greg Royse.
"One of the main things was facing your fears and having courage," said Williams of the experience after recalling jumping from a 35-foot tower into water near the end of camp. "Those ten day were the worst, but also the best, that I've gone through. I've really grown a lot through it. I just went through ten days, and I was thinking, 'Wow, these Marines do it for 85 days (normal boot camp), how do they stay away from their families for so long?' It's just insane ...
"It definitely made me cherish my family more. It was the first time I had been away from them for so long without being able to contact them. I've also become more active since Devil Pups. When I got home from camp, because I didn't want to be sitting on my butt all day, I went and climbed Deadwood for fun."
The non-profit Devil Pups camp for youth ages 14 to 17 aims to increase self-confidence and responsibility in young adults through conditioning exercises, first aid instruction, leadership classes, organized recreation, a "bivouac" (camping) and swimming. Lectures are given on the importance of self-confidence, teamwork, setting goals, and avoiding drug and alcohol abuse. Participants also got to visit the USS Midway Aircraft Carrier and the Marine Corps Recruit Depot Command Museum.
The camp got its name from the nickname German troops gave Marines during World War I: "Devil Pups." More than 50,000 young people have gone through the program since it was founded in 1954, with a yearly quota per western region of how many cadets are accepted in.
YHS Cadet Corps instructor, Col. Bruce Derry, USMCR, Ret., attended Devil Pups when he was in high school in 1963. Seeing his three cadets return home from the experience, he said they have become more mature, life wary and confident.
"There is a difference between confidence and arrogance," Col. Derry said. "Arrogance is 'Oh look at me.' Confidence is giving to your people as much as you can. That's one of the things Devil Pups helps with. The program is not only physically, but also mentally, challenging."
"It was a little bit overwhelming at first, your body just goes into survival mode," said Royse, recalling some tough experiences, like sleeping in the rain without a tent or sleeping bag, and surviving off of the infamous military "MREs" (Meals Ready to Eat), sealed in brown plastic. "You start to take it one day at a time. The big thing is they wouldn't tell you what you'd be doing next, so days seemed either incredibly short or incredibly long. You're only thought is survival, at least for me. You are not thinking of other things, you are thinking of the next five seconds. One day, to one meal, at a time."
"We got treated exactly how the Marines get treated," Majeno said. "My favorite part was the teamwork -- meeting different people, working together and the challenges ... It made me feel a lot stronger than I was. It taught me a lot of leadership skills and how to work together with people, even if you don't like them."
"It was such an incredible honor even getting the boys in to Devil Pups," said Lucy Royse of Fish Camp, Greg's mother. "The camp is all about being proud of your country ... It's an absolutely incredible thing I think every child can benefit from ... Gregory is a lot more confident and focused. Completing Devil Pups is a huge sense of pride and a great sense of achievement."
"Work ethic, truth and honor and respect -- those are just general good values, and those good values are well expressed in the Marine Corps," said Greg's father, a former Marine also named Greg, about the benefit of having a summer camp run by Marines.
"How Marines handle themselves and carry themselves -- they are general good life skills. Being respectful of others and keeping yourself in order -- healthy and fit and clean. That general stuff of right living is expressed 24-7 in the Marine Corps and those things are great life skills and experiences for everyone. It would be great if everyone could have some of that training at an early age like that."