‘They’ll remember the Marines’
Marine Sgt. Shalik Ballard of New York City shares stories with his county and hopes to impart students with a desire to grow and be curious. High school students learn about the duties of responsible citizenship as participants in the New York Boys State program State University of New York in Morrisville, N.Y., on Monday, July 1. Photo by Zach Krahmer/The American Legion

‘They’ll remember the Marines’

Before this summer, Capt. Eric Humer admitted, his knowledge of The American Legion’s Boys State program was limited.

Once he found out what he could be doing at New York Boys State, however, he was all in.

“If I’m going to be honest with you, it was down to me and another captain that were going to be available to do it. And I’ve just taken over a new role, and I thought, ‘Man, I think I’m purpose built for this.’ Because I did drilling ceremonies for the Marine Corps for years at the highest level; political science degree; and a Marine, I was like, ‘I got to go do this. I have to go do this.’ So I was like, ‘Don’t worry about it, it’s down to one. I’m doing it,’” Humer said.

Humer led a contingent of a dozen Marines who served alongside the Legion Family staff at New York Boys State on the campus of SUNY Morrisville June 28-July 3.

Both the location and the Marine presence are long-standing traditions, said program director Tom Schreck.

“The state university of New York campus can be a tough place to get around if you’re not used to it,” Schreck said.

“The Marines are here, one, because of the size of New York Boys State, their main mission is to get them from Point A to Point B,” said Department Commander Tim Collmer. “It’s not meant to be a military academy or a military indoctrination or anything like that. But (it has to do) with discipline, taking care of each other, looking out for each other. … The boys will remember the Marines; they won’t remember the counselors, but they’ll remember the Marines.”

The Marines’ responsibilities including leading the Boys State “counties” in formations, leading physical activities and exercise, and getting the 500-plus Boys Staters where they need to be.

“Then they’re going to be their command representative on the (graduation) parade,” Humer said. “It’s somewhat of a mentor role because they’re going to spend some time with them and talk to them, but that’s really reserved for the counselors.”

Schreck acknowledged there have been some who see the Marines’ presence as lending the program too much of a military aspect. But he said the Marines’ focus on teambuilding is a critical part of Boys State.

For Humer, who like the rest of his Marines was serving on the Boys State staff for the first time this year, teamwork and accountability are vital lessons they can pass along.

“When we’re doing our formation, it’s not just left-right-left, it’s ‘Hey, do we have everyone before we step off? Are we missing anybody? Do we know where people are at? Is someone at sick call? Is someone hurt? Is someone at band?’ So just general awareness of who you’re responsible for and who’s within your unit, and what to say,” Humer said.

The Marines also conduct room inspections, but Humer said those aren’t “necessarily about how tight are your sheets and stuff.”

“All these boys come from different homes from all over the state, different experiences — some good, some not so good — and the Marines are going to give them a standard, if they don’t know it already, of how to live, how to keep your restroom clean, how to organize your shoes so that you have accountability; things to take pride in what you do. And General (William) McRaven, he has a very famous speech about making your bed first thing in the morning. You’ve already accomplished the first thing of the day, so I think it’s going to give them a sense of pride in what they’re doing, on top of just being here. It will foster good habits for them.”

The room inspections also give the Marines a chance to talk to the Boys Staters one-on-one.

“Just realizing that they are boys, and they could use a good role model; whether they have 10 or they have none, an extra one isn’t going to hurt,” Humer said.

Boys Nation

Boys Nation

At Boys State / Nation, participants learn the rights, privileges and responsibilities of franchised citizens. The training is objective and centers on the structure of city, county and state governments.

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