FAIRFAX, VA --
Twenty-eight future Marines were recognized at the Our Community Salutes’ Northern Virginia Chapter high school senior recognition ceremony for their commitment to serve the U.S. Marine Corps at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., May 29.
Our Community Salutes was founded in southern New Jersey in 2009 and has since spread throughout the country. The Northern Virginia Chapter is an all-volunteer organization that recognizes young men and women in the local area who have chosen to serve our nation’s military upon graduating high school.
Christine Zinser had a personal experience which led her to start the Northern Virginia Chapter in 2011.
“When my own son entered the (delayed entry program) his senior year of high school, I learned that his school would not include the nine students from his graduating class who had chosen to serve (in the shared recognition),” said Zinser. “It was as though the implication was that because they were not getting an education first, their service was less deserving of recognition.”
This event marks the fourth annual ceremony hosted in Fairfax County that Zinser has coordinated. It is just one of many Our Community Salutes’ events nationwide that have been held in recent years.
“I live in Fairfax County so it was natural to begin here,” said Zinser. “Each year more chapters form and now there are close to 60 chapters (nationwide).”
The recognition provided by the organization can ensure future service members remain strong in their decision to join.
“I think it legitimizes what they are doing, like if they were getting a stamp of approval,” said Staff Sgt. Rodrigo Guzman, an Arlington, Va. native and the staff noncommissioned officer in charge of Recruiting Sub-Station Warrenton.
The program not only recognizes the young men and women who have made the commitment to serve, it also assists in curving pool attrition.
“It can be challenging keeping a poolee motivated for nine months but events like this make a difference,” said Guzman. “The sense of importance helps them understand how important the choice they made is. It also puts the kid out there where everyone knows what he or she is doing. If everyone is supportive of the poolees decision the more likely it is that they will become Marines.”
Giving poolees the recognition and an opportunity to see the support that they have is key to ensuring their commitment.
“The ceremony gives them a chance to be proud of their choice,” said Sgt. Peter Ballenger, a native of Westminster, S.C., and a Marine recruiter with Recruiting Sub-Station Leesburg. “If you go to college, (high schools) announce it at the awards ceremonies; they put your picture up in the school under your college’s name. The parents of our poolees get a delayed entry program certificate but there is no recognition by the county and schools. Recognizing the decisions of our youth as they transition from high school students to young adults is important.”
Our Community Salutes Northern Virginia Chapter is a key program for this type of missed recognition. Initially covering the Fairfax, Prince William and Loudon County areas, the non-profit organization continues to grow throughout Recruiting Station Frederick’s area of operation.
“In 2012, a mother from Fredericksburg, Va., contacted me via our website and said that her son, a high school senior, had enlisted in the Marines and his school would not recognize those students,” said Zinser.
Zinser identified with the mother and gave her all the necessary information to start another chapter in Fredericksburg. This year was the third annual ceremony in Fredericksburg which is also part of Recruiting Station Frederick’s area.
For more information on Our Community Salutes visit http://www.ourcommunitysalutes.org/news.html