Examples of Honor, Courage, and Commitment
By Sgt. John Neal
| | February 10, 2001
MARINE CORPS RECRUIT DEPOT PARRIS ISLAND, S.C. --
Marching smartly to the beat of drums and horns and the cadence of steely-eyed drill instructors across the coal-black parade deck at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, S.C., a young man and woman from Harlem became Marines Feb. 9. Following three months of physical and mental challenges designed to create professional warriors from the sea and upstanding citizens, Christopher Mangrum and Tiffany Smith can finally claim the title Marine.
For Mangrum, the moment is an especially monumental one. Not only did he meet the daily challenges of recruit training, he surpassed them. His exemplary performance and demonstrations of leadership to his peers warranted him the Honor Graduate for his company, a title reserved for only one Marine per company. In addition to being recognized for his accomplishments, Mangrum also received meritorious promotion to lance corporal, putting him well in advance of his peers.
Both Mangrum and Smith had an early start to their Marine Corps careers. In the northern part of Manhattan, beyond the high-rise apartments surrounding Central Park, a group of boys and girls ranging in ages 12-18 meet at the Harlem Armory Friday nights for a few hours of drill. They're called the Harlem Youth Marines; a cadet organization dedicated to keeping kids off the streets and away from crime and drugs.
Cadet Lieutenant Colonel Gregory Collins founded the Harlem Youth Marines at age 16. After 20 years of service, the Harlem Youth Marines continue to provide area youth with the fundamentals of discipline and of being a good citizen that many aren't afforded at home.
"They have to be clean-cut, squared away, and do good in school," said Collins of his cadets. "These young men and women are responsible in bringing up their peers."
According to Collins, Mangrum and Smith participated in the Harlem Youth Marines for eight and five years respectively. During that time they both participated in the drill team and performed for President Clinton?s second inauguration in 1997. They were also key members of the organization, providing a leadership role for the young men and women who joined their ranks.
Mangrum eventually rose to the rank of cadet first sergeant and was the NCOIC of the Harlem Youth Marines before leaving their ranks to enlist in the Marine Corps.
"He was an outstanding individual in cadets and in school," said Collins. "I think he will make an outstanding Marine."
Meanwhile, according to Collins, Smith "was sort of the NCOIC of females here."
Collins isn't the only one who's proud of the new Marines. Sitting in the audience for the ceremony was Joe Davis, a former Marine and member of the Montford Point Marine Association, Inc., New York Chapter. In addition to his association duties of participating in Marine Corps and community events, he worked closely with the Harlem Youth Marines program. For him, being able to see Mangrum and Smith march across the parade deck as Marines will be a memory that will stay with him for the rest of his life.
"It's like seeing a son graduate," he said of Mangrum. "That's how it feels, like seeing your own son. And after all he's been through, it's really outstanding."
In recognition of both of these young Marines' accomplishments, the Montford Point Marine Association, Inc., New York Chapter presented them with a plaque the day prior to graduation for their examples of leadership while working in the Harlem community.
"They really deserve it [the award]," said Davis. "After growing up in the environment they did and still excel and accomplished their goals, it's really something."
Throughout basic training Mangrum and Smith felt the rewards of their early experiences with the Harlem Youth Marines.
"He [Mangrum] was the best recruit I ever had," said Senior Drill Instructor Staff Sgt. Craig Yohe. "He already knew the basics of general military subjects, drill, discipline and the importance of self-discipline."
According to Yohe, the leadership Mangrum learned in the cadet program was evident in the way he led platoon 1010. With many of the squad leaders unaccustomed and unconditioned to the rigors and discipline of basic training, Mangrum was there to keep them up to speed.
"It was like having a lance corporal already in the platoon," said Yohe.
The same skills learned through cadet program had a similar effect on Smith's Parris Island experience.
"She [Smith] was always volunteering," said Company P, platoon 4004 Senior Drill Instructor Staff Sgt. Juanita Moore. "She was always quick to volunteer for everything and got the job done. Even up the last minute of boot camp."
Smith's initiative throughout basic training caught her drill instructors' eyes and earned her a meritorious promotion to private first class.
According to Smith, her cadet experience prepared her mentally and physically for boot camp. Nevertheless, the challenge of becoming a Marine was still a daunting task.
"I'm proud of my accomplishments," she said. "I was afraid of the challenge, but once I overcame that; now I'm not afraid of anything."