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Young enlistees prepare for U.S. Marine Corps service at Laurel Highlands YMCA

| Thursday, Jan. 30, 2014, 2:03 p.m.
Kelly Vernon | The Mt. Pleasant Journal
Jake Smartnick, 17, of Youngwood participated in a Marine Corps poolee function Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014, at The Regional Family YMCA.
Kelly Vernon | The Independent-Observer
Fitness instructor Jennifer Bensen instructs future Marines in her boot camp workout Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014, at the Regional Family YMCA as part of a Marine Corps poolee function.

Jennifer Bensen, a fitness instructor at the Regional Family YMCA of Laurel Highlands, recently volunteered to work with 25 young men and women, as part of a U.S. Marine Corps boot camp training workout at the East Huntingdon facility.

Known as “poolees,” the participants in the program had enlisted in the corps' delayed entry program and received a date to set out for Marine boot camp.

Most of those in attendance at the recent event were seniors in high school who had enlisted with written permission from their parents.

Among them were Jake Smartnick, 17, of Youngwood and Katie Bailey, also 17, of Connellsville.

They both said they have attended several of the poolee functions since enlisting when they turned 17.

Bensen conducted a one-hour boot camp session with the poolees.

She said it was good to push them to their limits, and see them feed off of each other and push each other during the fitness exercise.

“I enjoy doing this for future members of the military,” said Bensen, who hosts the event several times a year at the YMCA.

During the workout, U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Bryan Brashear oversaw three local recruiters and the poolees under their supervision — Staff Sgt. Luke Maxson (Uniontown); Sgt. David Campos (Johnstown); and Sgt. Jose Martinez (Greensburg).

Maxson, Campos and Martinez kept watch over their charges while working out alongside them.

Master Sgt. Brian Bensen, an assistant recruiter/instructor, was also on site to check on the progress of the young poolees.

“Some of these kids, we end up taking care of them for nine months before they ship out,” he said. “These guys can be supervising up to eight or nine kids at a time.

Bensen said he makes sure the poolees' grades in high school are up to par, and that they are morally conducting themselves as future Marines should.

Brashear said the purpose of the poolee functions, which are carried out in various formats at myriad locations month to month, is to help prepare the individuals for boot camp.

The functions feature a variety of activities from long hikes or obstacle courses to field meet competitions or trips to historical places or museums.

“While they may not do these specific exercises, it is about stamina and showing the enlistees what they can do and prepare them for boot camp,” Brashear said.

The YMCA volunteered space for the early morning function, Bensen said.

Bailey said the workout will definitely help her prepare for Marine training.

“As soon as I spoke to Recruiter Maxson, I knew I would love it and plan to make a career in the Marine Corps,” she said.

The locally-held event was the first poolee function for Cody Atkinson, 18, of Jeannette.

Atkinson is scheduled to leave for boot camp July 14.

He said it was an intense workout, but is something he will have to become accustomed.

“I think it presents the intensity of recruit training,” Atkinson said. “It prepares me physically and mentally for Marine training.”