New Bern, NC --
The mission of the Young Marines is “to positively impact America’s future by providing quality youth development programs for boys and girls that nurtures and develops its members into responsible citizens who enjoy and promote a healthy, drug-free lifestyle.” Watching Lance Cpl. Kristin N. Toler work with the young men and women of the New Bern, North Carolina, Young Marines her desire to fulfill that mission is evident.
Toler, a field radio operator with the Fire Support Coordination Center, 10th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, is a product of the New Bern Young Marines.
“I started at a young age,” said Toler. “It shaped me into a responsible and respectful person, and it taught me all the history of the Marines and what Marines do.”
Toler was born in 1993, and grew up in New Bern. She attended New Bern high school, where she graduated on June 9, 2012. But her most formidable years were spent with the Young Marines.
Toler first joined the Young Marines at the age of 10 along with her older sister. She took quickly to the drill movements and the requirements of being a Young Marine.
“It has been phenomenal to watch her,” said retired Sgt. Maj. Ernest Flowers III, the commanding officer of the New Bern Young Marines. “Her maturity level was high at 10. She picked up everything so quickly.”
Toler became the youngest member of their color guard and was a part of New Bern’s first all-female color guard. She constantly excelled, serving as the unit’s sergeant major and then the battalion and regimental sergeant major positions.
Toler was honored as the regimental Young Marine of the year in 2010 and again in 2011. She served as a Young Marine until she graduated high school in 2012.
“She was the top young Marine in the unit until she left the program,” said Flowers.
Her involvement with the Young Marines did not stop there though. She started serving in an adult staff position, helping to organize events and run the program along with Flowers, while working multiple waitress jobs throughout New Bern.
Toler says she had wanted to be a Marine since she joined the Young Marines and learned what the Marines do. As she left high school and began thinking about the Marine Corps, she realized she had to lose 40 pounds to enlist.
“I knew it was going to be a huge challenge because of my bad eating habits and exercise,” said Toler. “But, I knew that if I wanted to join the Marine Corps, it is what I had to do.”
Toler first met her recruiter, Staff Sgt. Brandon Thomas, a recruiter with Recruiting Sub Station Jacksonville, while she was a senior in high school.
“I knew she wanted to join and she had the mental fortitude to do so, but she just would not commit at first,” said Thomas.
Toler finally committed in August, 2012, and started working out twice a day, once every morning with Thomas and his poolees and then again on her own. She lost the weight in only six months.
“I felt like I was on top of the world,” said Toler. “I could finally live out my dream of becoming a Marine.”
Toler officially entered the delayed entry program in April of 2013, and shipped to recruit training on May 6, 2013.
She says that her years with the Young Marines gave her an inside track on boot camp. She had been to Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C., for Young Marine events in the past and had learned a lot about the recruit training process. Her years with the color guard also gave her an advantage on drill movements, and by her second day in training she was the platoon’s guide, a position generally held by the best recruit in a platoon.
She held onto her position through the end of training and graduated as the company honor graduate for Papa Company, 4th Recruit Training Battalion, on August 2, 2013.
“I thought that it was a great accomplishment for having to lose 40 pounds to join,” said Thomas. “I do not know anyone else that could do that. In my eyes, that took a lot of heart and dedication.
Toler went on to attend Marine Combat Training in Camp Geiger, North Carolina, where she served as a squad leader, and then field radio operator’s school at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twenty-nine Palms, Calif.
She was then assigned to 10th Marine Regiment in Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, and while she wants to travel during her Marine Corps career, this has given her the opportunity to continue to give back to the organization that shaped her.
Every Friday evening, she can be found shaping the lives of the current Young Marines out of New Bern. She teaches them drill movements and how to properly wear their uniforms.
“We were glad to hear that she got stationed at Camp Lejune because she can come up here and help out,” said Flowers. “She is great with the kids and I have no doubt that she could run this unit.”
Toler says that the Young Marines shaped her life for the better, and that is why she continues to give back. She also aspires to give back to the Marine Corps by one day serving as a drill instructor in the future.
“She’s had a huge impact on the program,” said Flowers. “If you want to see what the program does for your child you can look at Toler.”