“We came here to be isolated. I wanted to build a home that looks like an old prairie school house - minimal, white, nostalgic. We dream of the past like some people dream of the future.” Rebekah Engebretson Curtis, Kate and Jude, all of whom are homeschooled, lay in their back- yard on a dry, hot summer afternoon. Western North Dakota attracted families from across the nation during the recent oil boom. Watford, like other rural towns in the region, is now facing unemployment and over- development since the decline of the oil industry. Watford, North Dakota.
They came from Nebraska, Minnesota, Montana, and North Dakota to meet in Rapid City. An old National Guard lunch room was converted into headquarters, and barracks were transformed into the bunk beds of teenagers. The rooms were spotless and almost mistaken as abandoned, minus the lone dirty sock spotted under a pillow and a pair of shoes creeping out from under a bed. Most days end in the parking lot. Smells of Arby’s drift in the hot wind while groups of students march drills in unison, wearing matching navy uniforms, and Civil Air Patrol decorations. CAP has steadily maintained its numbers, with a slow growth over the past decade, growing by two thousand cadets since ten years ago (22,009 in 2007, to 24,007 in 2017). Rapid City, South Dakota.
Garett’s mom had just given a speech in tears about his dedication to the Young Marines program, his character as a son, and his future. He’s a senior in high school, and his boyhood is slipping away. Now, it seems as if every eye at the VFW in Hanover, Pennsylvania is looking at him. He dances nervously with his girlfriend. The Young Marines are a patriotic education program with around 10,000 students enrolled nationwide. Enrollment begins at the age of 8. Hanover, Pennsylvania.
Last month, Nelson, a 17-year old high school senior, marched with her hands in small fists with a group of six other students. Her uniform was pressed to perfection, and a navy hat sat on her red hair, tightly pulled back in a bun. Tonight, crowded bleachers of teenagers painted blue turns into an ocean of hands and songs, mimicking waves. Bodies drip with sweat, and chants become profane as the evening slips into sunset. “Nobody takes football as serious as we do in Nebraska,” Nelson says. She blends into the crowd, laughing with her bright hair hanging on her shoulders. “And I’m going to every game, to every high school normal experience, before I leave to the army.” Omaha, Nebraska
“I mean, maybe I enlisted too early, but I don’t know. My commanding officer told me that we should prepare for war, that we could ship any day. He talked about China, or North Korea, or Russia. And then I remember, hey, I’m still a kid though, I’m still in high school.” She nervously drinks another strawberry lemonade, the third of the night at a Red Robin restaurant with her mom, before running back to her car into the cold, Nebraska weather. Omaha, Nebraska
Tonight, every student is dressed in his or her finest dress or tuxedo. Young children are transformed into miniature adults, hair is pinned with fresh flowers, earrings shine in the neon light of the VFW, and the smell of cologne mixes with the meat and potato dinner on every dinner plate. Eyes are fixed on a large American flag as the National Anthem begins to fall from the lips of every individual present. Young Marines Ball, Hanover, Pennsylvania.
In the Black Hills of South Dakota, wide eyes look up at vintage military aircraft, WWII bombers, B-1s, and a Minuteman II Intercontinental Ballistic Missile. Backpacks are filled with chewing gum, soda, chocolate bars. A few bored students linger in the hallway, flipping through postcards that simply state: FREEDOM. Other students watch Soviet films, take a ride on an old airplane, or look through dusty history books. Civil Air Patrol students en route to the Air and Space Museum. Rapid City, South Dakota.
"I grew up in Nogales, in a border town. I remember seeing families sitting on tables on each side of the border, separated by the fence, and eating dinner as if they were in one house.” Polamera, 18, is a student in the Border Patrol Explorers program, a program created by Homeland Security and the Boy Scouts. With over 700 students enrolled, the program gives students 14-20 years old experience working with Border Patrol, in states such as Texas, California, and Arizona. Ryan Dunlavy (L), Nerisa Garcia (C), and Jeremy Cabral (R), practice a room clearing drill at the United States Border Patrol Station in Kingsville Texas Station. Kingsville, Texas
In Harlingen, Texas, a group of young boys lolls on the grass in the sunshine, swapping their families war stories. “My uncle killed Taliban in Afghanistan,” one boy says. Another shares a tale about a relative who tried to smuggle an AK-47 back to the U.S. The boys will spend a few more weeks at this private quasi-military camp where they will engage in physical, mental and weapons training. Some of them dream of a career in the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy or Marine Corps. Marine Military Academy summer camp.
Heads bow in unison as a speaker booms with thankfulness to God for the meal that is about to be served, for Pennsylvania, for the Young Marines, and for America. Younger children in the corner peek open their eyes and shut them quickly. Giggles are hushed by the adults. Young Marines. Hanover, Pennsylvania.
Jamison, Jade, Gregory, and Nick throw rocks at their friend, Logan, swimming in the distance. Later in the evening, the boys will celebrate the 4th of July under the lights of a casino, parked in a gas station, watching the reworks explode over Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota. “Are you sure about this?” “No, but I’m going,” says Logan. He ships o to California for the Marine boot camps in five days. He didn’t want to work in the oil fields, or live on the reservation, or on its border town. Fort Berthold Reservation, North Dakota
At 11-years old, Bailey can remain absolutely stoic. She doesn’t move a muscle as her older peers walk up and down the hallway, stopping occasionally to inspect her out t, correct her uniform, and see if she breaks form. “From this day forward, I sincerely promise, I will set an example for all other youth to follow, and I shall never do anything that would bring disgrace or dishonor upon my God, my country, and its flag, my parents, myself, or the Young Marines.” -The Young Marine Obligation required by all new recruits to memorize. Hanover, Pennsylvania.
With steady hands, she points a plastic gun at group of drunk men. They almost appear real, with their beer bottles, profanities, and the provocative way the group tries to make her angry. To shoot, or not to shoot? Seven other students are waiting impatiently in line to practice with the virtual simulation program. Border Patrol work is a complicated affair for Mexican-American families, bringing with it questions of allegiance and identity — even more so for teenagers. Border Patrol Explorer program is led by the Boy Scouts and Homeland Security, and enrolls students from the age of 14. Kingsville, Texas.
Tension is thick in the air as a group of Young Marines prepare for an annual airsoft competition. This is a serious matter for competing sides. While normally loud and chatting across rooms to one another, not a word is spoken as magazines are changed, outfits are prepared, and goggles are put on. Airsoft is a competitive team sport, where replica weapons eliminate opponents by shooting with plastic pellets. Hanover, Pennsylvania.
In rural central Florida, Joseph and Jasmine search the woods for wood for kindling. The children attending the North Florida Survival School talked a lot about the zombie apocalypse. They were joking, but for the older kids, the term was a sort of code – an analogy for a coming catastrophe that could very well be around the next corner. “The zombie apocalypse is just the fun, easy way to look at it, but the reality is that at any point an apocalypse could start, whether it is the economy, or a nuclear attack,” said 17-year- old Jasmine. The weekend training pairs children with their fathers, teaches firearm safety, how to handle knives, and using the woods for food and safety. Keysville, Florida.
Young Marines attend a meeting focusing on drug awareness, 11 Feb 2017, Hanover, PA. Hanover and the surrounding districts combine for Young Marines meetings, with a total of around 40 students. Nationwide, the youth group has around 300 clubs. The ages range from 8-18. The Young Marines is a not-for-profit organization focusing on youth development in categories such as citizenship, patriotism, and drug-free lifestyles.
In the small town of Herriman, Utah, children as young as six learn the Declaration of Independence by putting it to song. Over a few hot summer days, they will learn all about “Americanism,” a blend of patriotism and history that casually mixes in some of the basic tenets of libertarianism. At one point, they’ll pretend to overturn a boat full of tea into Boston Harbor. Over 900 students attend “Utah Patriot Camp” annually. Herriman, Utah
Driving through York County unfolds a tapestry of the state of Pennsylvania. “Who is John Galt?” is written on a yard sign next to four bright green dollar signs. Rolling Dutch country hills fill the rear view mirror like a painting, while three girls on bikes stick their tongues out and laugh. An Amish couple sits in a buggie at a gas station alongside a pick-up truck decorated in bumper stickers reading, “IF YOU DON’T LIKE IT HERE, GET OUT.” At this particular home, sheets made into ghosts welcome Halloween, and fly side by side an American and Confederate flag. York County, Pennsylvania.
Nicole sings without her voice shaking. She shifts her weight from one knee to another, her high heels making small noises against the ballroom floor. Cell phones buzz in the background, but the high school students don’t move their gaze away from Nicole. The audience is in a trance. “Some people think that you have to be born here to be an American. But I identify as a Latina, a Hispanic young lady. I’m Dominican-Ecuadorian-American.” Shortly after Nicole finishes singing, the ballroom is transformed into a dance floor, with fifty JROTC students from the Bronx dancing the night away. JROTC is one of the largest youth programs in the world, with over 300,000 American youth enrolled. Bronx, New York City.
Nelson sits on the hood of her beat-up car. The front is held together by duct tape, which she jokes about often. In the Home Depot parking lot, bright lights and signs reflect on the recently painted black stripes on her face. Nelson rarely allows herself to doubt her decisions, but sometimes it slips out, whether its mentioning the cursive, bold and black text reading “I am strong because I have been weak” stretching across her bicep, or mentioning her recent enlistment to the Army. But as quickly as she mentions her doubts, she assures herself, “I feel like Omaha is not really the place for me. So, I do kind of want to get the hell out of here.” Omaha, Nebraska