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July 5, 2022

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Marine camp teaches youth discipline, character

Local ‘Devil Pups’ in a class of their own

Devil Pups

Jummel Hidrosollo/Special to the Home News

Rep. Jon Porter congratulates Rasheem Waters with an award during a ceremony honoring the Devil Pups who attended boot camp at Camp Pendleton.

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Kete Hetzel thanks the sponsors of Devil Pups during the Oct. 11 awards ceremony to honor those who attended boot camp at Camp Pendleton.

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For more information about Devil Pups, call Marie Tomao 293-1051 or 285-4142; SSgt. Randy Luna 818-322-5828; or Victor Reilley 435-8899 or 374-8899 or visit

On top of Old Smokey, 16-year-old Christian Emery found his character.

The Palo Verde High School junior was one of the first to reach the summit of Old Smokey, a 1,300-foot sandy peak at Camp Pendleton Marine Base near San Diego.

However, because achieving the ascent was a group effort and Emery stood alone, the squad leader climbed back down the mountain and literally got behind his teammates.

"I was one of the top to finish in my platoon and then I came back, like, halfway down the mountain and pushed everyone else up," he said. "I got pride out of it. The feeling of accomplishment and pride."

Such teamwork and leadership epitomizes the character that Devil Pups should learn during their 10-day encampment where many Marines undergo basic training.

Devil Pups, Inc. is a nonprofit organization that helps boys and girls gain self-confidence, learn respect and to take responsibility for their actions.

The experience also became a father-and-son bonding experience for Christian.

His father, Rod, was a Devil Pup in 1984. He said he gave vague answers to his son's questions about what to expect at the camp.

"Part of the experience is the unknown. If you go knowing everything, then it doesn't impact you as much," Rod said. "I said, 'you're going to be prepared, you've got what it takes.' So it was really cool when he got back, because then I could tell him everything."

He said Christian has shown more respect and responsibility since his return from the camp.

The name is derived from the nickname Devil Dogs, given to U.S. Marines in World War I. Devil Pups is not a Marine Corps-sponsored program nor is it a mini boot camp, para-military or recruiting organization for the military.

Since 1954, the program has sought to give teens the skills to succeed in life, Southern Nevada Liaison Representative Marie Tomao said.

"This isn't to fix a kid. It's for kids who want to be there," she said.

But the pups do sample the experience of the 10-week boot camp in just 10 days, said camp commander Col. Ray Blum.

It's limited to 600 teens, ages 14-17, from California, Nevada, Arizona and Utah. This year's camp was held July 31 to Aug. 9.

The Southern Nevada chapter is the only one with a 10-week training period prior to the Marine camp and requires its pups to perform community service.

The local pups are among the most disciplined and prepared for the challenges of the Marine camp, Blum said.

"We do not have problems with Las Vegas," he said.

All 18 Devil pups from Southern Nevada graduated from this year's encampment and four won prestigious honors for their efforts.

Rashad Waters finished in the top 5 percent of campers for his physical fitness score while his twin brother, Rasheem, was one of six Honor Pups, recognized for their overall excellence.

The Spring Valley High School sophomores, aged 16, said they benefitted from the increased discipline. Their uncle, who's also their legal guardian, signed them up for the program without telling them.

"At first I really didn't enjoy it. He made it sound like it was going to be exciting, but it really wasn't at first," Rasheem said.

The Waters twins made a remarkable turnaround in their attitudes from the early days of the training period, Tomao said. While volunteering at the Henderson Police DARE Day in early May, the boys introduced themselves to Tomao with names she knew weren't right. One was a girl's name, she said. The boys told her they didn't want to be there.

"So I said, 'if by the end of the day you don't want to be here, you don't have to be here,'" Tomao said. "About an hour later ... they were dancing around in the McGruff and lion costumes dancing with the kids. It took all of about an hour."

During the pre-camp training session, Rasheem earned the most points among males in the physical fitness portion while Rashad finished third. Rashad also earned the Most Improved award for improving his score 78 points during the 10-week period.

"Not many people have that opportunity to go to what my uncle sent me to. I appreciate that," Rashad said.

Kate Hetzel, a 15-year-old Bonanza High School freshman, almost didn't qualify for the camp because her physical fitness score was 43 points below the requirement. But she gained 74 points during the summer to qualify and earned the Most Improved award among females during the pre-camp training.

"She kept pushing and pushing on," Tomao said. "I'm so, so proud of her because I believe in my heart that this young lady has made such a miraculous change from attending this encampment."

Hetzel applied what she knew about the military through her school's Junior ROTC program to overcome the drill instructors' intense disciplinary techniques.

"Contrary to what everyone else was thinking — 'I don't want to be here because I don't want to be yelled at' — I was like, 'yell at me, yell at me,'" she said.

The campers attend for free because sponsors subsidize the approximately $350 cost per pup. The Henderson Police and Henderson and Boulder City Rotary Clubs, the Greater Nevada Marine Corps League are among the organization's biggest annual supporters.

Some of the biggest supporters year after year live in Boulder City, even though no pups have come from the city in recent years, Tomao said.

Boulder City Police and Chief Thomas Finn backed the program this year. Finn said the lessons of teamwork, self respect and citizenship are often missing in society. He said he sees the result of teens' bad decisions from his position, but youth programs like Devil Pups can provide the life lessons that can keep young people on track.

"I don't think you can ever get too much instruction in the core values," he said. "If they don't get it at home, they're probably not getting it in school, so where else will they learn them unless they have a role model."

Jeff Pope can be reached at 990-2688 or [email protected].

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