Supporting the USMC “Young Marines” program

Updated 1/8/2023:

We have been involved as instructors with the Golden Gate Young Marines unit. They are from the San Francisco bay area and were based on the USS Hornet museum ship at the time.

We have participated in several week-long events at the USMC Mountain Warfare Training Center (MWTC) in the Sierra Nevada mountains, near Bridgeport CA and other weekend events at other locales.  The Marine Corps had hosted all the California units for several years for a week long event at the training base, also known as Pickel Meadow.

Sponsored by the United States Marine Corps and the Marine Corps League, who are the Young Marines (YM’s) ?

“Mission:  The Young Marines program educates and inspires the youth within our communities by promoting a healthy and drug-free lifestyle through instructional and adventurous activities.  We develop responsible citizens using the volunteer resources of a civilian and military partnership.  The teamwork and espirit-de-corps enjoyed by the Young Marines help them discover the hero within”.

Our YM’s participated in a 3 day camp out at a site about 6000 feet up near Strawberry CA in the Sierra Nevada mountains in February. Cross country skiing, snow shoeing, survival, fieldcraft, land navigation, shelter building, food preparation, celestial navigation basics, weather, teamwork, leadership and of course communications.

Golden Gate Young Marines Cold Weather Training

Above: Basic mountain shelter. Cross country ski’s across the top of a snow trench, covered with a couple of ponchos. These 2 young lads converted it into a “Hootch and Casino” passing the early evening hours playing cards with their buddies within.

Igloo Building Teamwork

It takes teamwork to build igloos.

Constructing an igloo. Young Marines at work

The basic Eskimo spiral Igloo: Cool inside no matter how COLD it gets outside – snow is a “good” insulator and there’s nothing better for stopping the wind.
“Though many have been cold, few have been frozen”

Mountain Communications: Future Hams

As part of their Communications Ribbon training, we brought in a portable Ham radio station and set it up at the “CP Hootch” up in the mountains and conducted demonstrations and training.

It also served as our emergency comms unit on both long-range High Frequency and VHF circuits since we were over 40 miles from any cell phone coverage area. We had a comms watch back home via HF and also via a repeater on Mt Diablo about 75 miles from here. You could see the kids eyes light up. Wow…

FT-897 in the Field.

The YM’s learned about antenna rigging and aiming and the need to keep batteries warm. (Keeping batteries warm inside your sleeping bag is a real treat!)  We were using an FT-897 ricebox radio transceiver mounted inside an ammunition box along with an antenna tuner, CW key and gel cell batteries. Antennas rigged in the trees.

Many of these young people went on to get their FCC Amateur Radio Operators licenses.

Ladies Barracks – Cold Weather Training

You Go Girls! An adult staff member.

Then, off to the MWTC for their summer Mountain Leaders school tailored for the Young Marines. This was unfortunately the last time the USMC was able to host the Young Marines program. Real world OPTEMPO saw many more Marine units cycling through the school so we took a back seat. As it should be. We’ll see what the future holds but the skills taught here can be applied, practiced and utilized in many other outdoor settings. Improvise, Adapt, Overcome.

Lean-To Shelter – Mountain Warfare Training Center

Make sure a Bear doesn’t move in before you complete it….The basic Lean-To with a campfire heat reflector wall. Simple, works great.

Above: Field expedient shelter training: MWTC summer program.

Fallen Tree Shelter: USMC MWTC

Just need to add a few more logs, some boughs for thatching and a fire. Open for business.

Training Young Marines on the PU-181 Generator

Fuel and oil verified, load disconnected, fuel valve open, set the choke, wind up the starter rope, clear, pull! The Marine in the red shirt is an active duty staff member assisting in the training. He is a current-day radio operator with the Fleet Marine Force. A great role-model with lots of Street Cred with the kids.

Young Marines Training: GRC-109 Radio Set

An orientation class for the Young Marines on the Special Forces AN/GRC-109 radio set. They powered the radio with the hand-cranked generator and then sent their first names – in morse code – to another training group in the vicinity.

Signal Mirror Training Class MWTC

The YM’s learned how to properly aim a standard military signal mirror at a distant aircraft or ship to identify their location. Here, they were hitting a red automobile tail light reflector nailed to a far-off tree for “target practice”. These mirror flashes can be seen for more than 25 miles, even more on a very clear day. Unmistakeable. And fun. “Let me try!”

GRC-9 “Marine Corps Phone Booth”

Training the YM’s on Radio Telephone procedure and the operation of the AN/GRC-9 Radio at the USMC Mountain Warfare Training Center. Strapped to a tree and using the “ammo box” power supply powered in turn by the PU-181 generator. (See the Ammo Box Radio posting elsewhere on this website for details). The YM’s learned to use the radio to obtain a proper Radio Check and to send and receive messages using proper phonetic alphabet characters. The YM’s in the background are receiving final instructions before climbing the rappelling rock face.  We rotated many groups through the various training classes.

The USMC Mountain Warfare Training Center was established by the Marine Corps during the Korean War to train and prepare Marines for the rigors of the Korean peninsula in winter. The GRC-9, GRC-109 (RS-1) radios and the gas generator are also Korean War vintage. Marines trained with this same equipment at MWTC for many years and deployed with them in Korea. This gear probably felt right at home there. Can you spell Time Warp?

GRC-9 Training Class Students MWTC

Future Communicators, future Leaders.

Rope Bridge – USMC MTWC

Crossing the Rubicon. Actually, crossing the (freezing!) Walker River on a one-rope bridge. Lots of fun, lots of upper body strength required.

Walker River Crossing

Tactical crossing of the Walker River on an 11 mm climbing line, using a rope Swiss Seat and carabiner – Do you see him/her ?

Leavitt Lake Subsistence Fishing – MWTC

Subsistence fishing for high altitude trout – Leavitt Lake at 9500 feet; Mountain Warfare Training Center. The guy in the middle had just caught one but I recall we had mostly spaghetti for dinner.

MWTC Climbing Wall training

Rock climbing on the training wall at the MWTC Gym. Learn the ropes here.
On Belay!

On Rappel!

Rapelling and rock climbing, Leavitt Training Area MWTC

Final exam – the Real Thing.

An adventure they will not soon forget!

Plus, a bunch of Sea Stories they can tell their school buddies who just hung out or played video games all weekend.

Fleet Week 2006. The Golden Gate YM’s rode the USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6) from San Diego into San Francisco for Fleet Week. A great trip and experience for these kids. We watched LCAC’s launching and recovering through the stern gate, AV-8 Harrier flight  Ops, numerous helo ops plus life aboard ship in general.


Hitching a ride on a Navy C-9 transport at Travis AFB

We flew from Travis AFB aboard a Navy C-9 into MCAS Miramar and then rode the ship north.

Young Marines on LHD-6

Here they are on the signal bridge watching CH-46 helos performing touch-and-go’s off the bow. We were about 50 nautical miles off Monterrey on the California coast.

Rescue Helo at the ready

The rescue swimmer prepares to board the SH-60 helo while the “Grapes” refuel it on deck prior to launch from deck station 4. This helo orbits nearby during flight operations in case of an emergency.

Young Marines watching Harrier flight ops

The view from “Vultures Row”: Along with a bunch of Sea Cadets from SoCal units, the Golden Gate YM’s got to watch dozens of takeoffs and landings of the ships’ Harriers. Loud!

Prepare to launch Harrier

Preparing to launch a Harrier “jump jet”. Here’s your sign! Actually a tote board with aircraft, armament and fuel weights for the pilots final check. The Yellow Shirts are the flight deck directors, controlling and positioning on-deck aircraft.

Damage Control Central briefing

The YM’s received briefings and demonstrations of many of the ships’ daily training and operations functions. Here, Damage Control Central. We toured the Brig, well deck, hanger deck, jet engine shop, medical and of course berthing and the mess decks – everyone’s favorite. It’s called Bug Juice…. They also hit the ships store for Gedunk and Pogey Bait and watched movies on the hanger deck at night.

Young Marines Man the Rail – Entering San Francisco Fleet Week

Along with the ships company of sailors and Marines we “manned the rail” while steaming into San Francisco under the Golden Gate bridge. The ships’ Marine crew members are on the bow. I recall that the aircraft carrier under the bridge was the USS Nimitz.

Then we got to watch the Blue Angels, UP CLOSE. The ship was anchored right under the flight path at “Air Show Center”, just west of Treasure Island.

Blue Angels from the USS Bonhomme Richard

Right under the flight path. This very blurry photo (camera could not keep up with the speed) shows the F/A-18’s in action. From here you could also FEEL and SMELL them as they blasted by. No telephoto lens here – they were right over the ships stern.

HOOYAH! Or as the Marines say, OOHRAH!

*Footnote:  Sadly, on 12 July 2020 a probable-arson fire broke out aboard the ship while it was in a shipyard overhaul period in San Diego.  Most fire fighting boundaries and damage control systems were compromised by ongoing Yard work which had the ship completely opened up.  The damage was significant enough to render the 22 year old ship beyond economic repair and it was subsequently decommissioned and scrapped.  The accused sailor was acquitted during a trial.