With the prospect of entering his freshman year of high school looming on the horizon, 14-year-old Alex Pankoke has his sights trained well beyond the next four years—he’s focused on the future. For Alex, this particular summer is about more than adolescent distractions; it’s about facing personal challenges and honing his talents.
Pankoke is a member of the Central Indiana Young Marines (CIYM), a local non-profit organization offered to boys and girls ages 8 through completion of high school. CIYM dedicates itself to character building, fostering leadership skills, and educating about the advantages of a healthy, drug-free life.
“We begin each meeting with drill,” said Pankoke, which includes conducting military formations and a “call to arms.” “We do the Pledge of Allegiance and our obligation,” which he shared: From this day forward, I sincerely promise, I will set an example for all other youth to follow, and I shall never do anything that would bring disgrace or dishonor upon my God, my Country and its flag, my parents, myself or the Young Marines. These I will honor and respect in a manner that will reflect credit upon them and myself. And of course, the creed concludes with the indelible, “Semper Fidelis.”
Over a year ago, Pankoke discovered CIYM and approached his father about joining. And as a Marine himself, David Pankoke had absolutely no problem fulfilling his son’s request.
The 14-year-old Pankoke said that while he enjoys the camaraderie between his peers, one of the most rewarding aspects of CIYM is introduction to military history. “What I remember best is the Battle of Belleau Woods,” said Pankoke. “That’s where the Marines got the nickname ‘Devil Dogs.’” Indeed, it was during this particular WWI battle—when Third Battalion Marines waded into machine gunfire and emerged through the fog of mustard gas—that secured their ominous moniker.
But there’s more to this standout recruit than his fidelity to his fellow Young Marines. Pankoke is also a bike-riding enthusiast, a rifle-shooting competitor, and R/C car racer, who now and again races his mean, miniature machine at Indy Slots on the South Side. Also a musician, he plans to continue playing the violin with the Franklin Central High School band.
Marine David Heffner has been the commanding officer with CIYM for two years, and served as adult leader for five years; and after all this time Heffner is still shocked by what he witnesses with these young men and women.
“It’s what we are able to accomplish as a team,” he said. “I’ve had school principals ask, ‘What are you doing?’ And I say, ‘It’s not me—it’s all of us collectively’.” Heffner pointed the leadership of recruits, their family and their friends. Once these kids see that “everyone is accountable,” they become more respectful, more disciplined, and more responsible to their community.
“Just all of a sudden,” said Pankoke of CIYM, “I made a lot of friends.” And if his experience as a young Marine serves as a barometer, then the “boot camp” of high school will be a breeze.
Following the devastating tornado that tore through Henryville in last March, the CIYM were some of the responding volunteers that helped with the cleanup. “We just helped anywhere we could,” said Pankoke, recalling the teamwork required for such a complicated effort. Families from Henryville will be the guests of honor at CIYM’s family cookout Saturday July 14, 2012.
The next CIYM recruit orientation and registration is 6:30-8 p.m. July 19. Visit ciym.net for more information.
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