Azure Parmenter is a decorated lance corporal, with nearly a dozen ribbons pinned to her camouflage uniform — and she’s only 12.
Azure is a member of the Soaring Eagles Young Marines, an education and service program that focuses on character building, leadership and promoting a healthy, drug-free lifestyle.
"It’s like the Boy Scouts, only up a notch," said Paula Parmenter, Azure’s mother, a Scottsdale resident. "A lot of people think it’s a recruiting tool for the military, but it really isn’t."
The Young Marines started in 1958 and now has more than 10,000 members across the country, including six units in the East Valley, according to the group’s Web site. The organization is a subsidiary of the U.S. Marine Corps League, a national association for active and former Marines.
"We might be one of the smaller units in the state, but we like to focus on quality," said Adjutant Nancy Wigton, watching the group’s Tuesday meeting at the Scottsdale Senior Center.
As the group has dwindled to just 10 members, though, she’s worried about its future.
"The unit is at risk if we don’t get a good batch of recruits," she said.
To become a Young Marine, members have to be at least 8 years old and must go through a 26-hour "boot camp," where they learn military history, customs, physical fitness, drills and military rank structure. Dues are $75 a year, not including the uniform. Wigton said financial help is available.
Members have the opportunity to attend summer adventure and space camps around the country for reduced rates.
Azure said she is hoping to soon become the unit’s highest-ranking female member.
"A bunch of morals are magnified here," she said, listing attributes such as integrity, initiative and discipline, which she said the leaders emphasize.
They also focus on more concrete goals, such as physical fitness and public speaking, and each meeting and weekend camping trip includes running, pull-ups and other physical training.
Young Marines have the opportunity to earn rank and work toward ribbon awards for leadership, academic success, community service and first aid.
For Azure, the community service is the best part.
On Tuesday, she earned the Life Saving Third Degree ribbon to honor her volunteer work at a local cat shelter, where she saved a cat’s life by alerting a veterinarian that the animal was barely breathing.
While she currently plans a career working with animals — perhaps as a zookeeper or dolphin trainer — she might take the military route. "I’m not ruling anything out right now," she said.
For information about the Young Marines, visit: