CHICAGO – Ten-year-old Evan Robinson of Chicago is a private with the Marines.
The Young Marines (search), that is — an organization for pre-teens and teens that teaches discipline and respect and gives them a way to spend their free time.
The Young Marines program is actually a drug prevention program, said Cpl. Brian Owens, a senior drill instructor with the Chicago branch. It's an alternative for kids to do other than hang out in the streets.
Founded in 1958 in Waterbury, Conn., the Young Marines has seen tremendous growth in the past decade. In 1993, there were 1,000 children and 300 adults in the program; in 2000 those numbers jumped to more than 11,000 children and almost 2,000 adults, according to the organization's Web site, www.theyoungmarines.org/.
The recruits, ages 8 to 18, dress like Marines (search), drill like Marines and learn the core values of the Marines — discipline, integrity and the ability to think for themselves, Owens said.
That's what inspired Yolanda Garcia to put her son Luis into the program. She said he lacks discipline at home.
"They're going through a tough training right now and I think that's what he needs," Garcia said.
In addition to the rigorous physical and mental training, members of the Young Marines also march in parades, take field trips and even manage to have some fun. Not surprisingly, many want to join the actual Marine Corps when they’re old enough.
"I'm going to OTS (search) — Officer's Training School," said Young Marine Pvt. Walter Hill. "I'd like to be a colonel."
Others are hoping the experience will help them succeed in different careers.
"I want to be an astronaut when I get older," said Pvt. Robinson.
Young Marines commanders say their job is to prepare boys and girls for whatever lies ahead.
"There's a future president out there, a lawyer, a doctor, a construction worker," Owens said. "Whatever they want to do, the future is out there."
Fox News' Catherine Donaldson-Evans contributed to this report.
Steve Brown is an author, radio broadcaster and seminary professor at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida.