For the last eight years, Marie Tomao has been sending teens to the Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton in San Diego County, Calif., for the Devil Pups program, a rigorous leadership and physical training regimen that culminates in a grueling climb up Old Smokey. The climb is so daunting that Marines brag about ascending it. This year, she climbed it with her pups.
“I did some of it on my hands and knees, but I climbed it,” Tomao said. “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done besides having babies.”
Tomao is the liaison for the Southern Nevada Devil Pups. She runs a more rigorous program than some other locations, insisting the teens she sends to Camp Pendleton spend 12 Saturday mornings of the summer preparing for it, doing physical training at Sunset Park, 2601 E. Sunset Road, and donating time to public service.
It isn’t unusual for a Devil Pup to fail to meet the program’s high standards and return the following year to try again, but Omar Irizarry’s experience is unique. He succeeding in making it into the program at Camp Pendleton three times but was unable to attend the first two because of family emergencies. He attended this year, taking home three of the six awards achieved by Southern Nevada Devil Pups, including honors for physical prowess and the Todd and Karen Kline Award for demonstrating the most honorable performance in the encampment. He bristled at the suggestion that this meant he’d trained harder than any other Devil Pup.
“Everyone gives 110 percent at Devil Pups,” the Clark High School senior said. “I’ve just been there more times.”
The program tasks the pups physically and mentally, often at the same time. Irizarry remembers the tower jump, where the Devil Pups jumped into a pool of water from 15- and 25-foot-tall towers, as being particularly challenging.
“It doesn’t look that high until you get up there,” Irizarry said. “I just didn’t look down and decided not to doubt myself. Always be confident. As long as you’re confident, you can do anything.”
Liberty High School sophomore Andrew Gabris, who was given the name A-Bomb as a Devil Pup, enjoyed the team aspects of the camp.
“I liked the part where we had to work together as a team to get up Old Smokey,” he said. “I was squad leader, and the only thing I worried about the whole 10 days was the team and making sure we made it through together.”
The Southern Nevada Devil Pups are planning a ceremony to recognize both the teens who have attended the program and local politicians, groups and residents who have sponsored pups.
This year’s ceremony is scheduled at noon Sept. 6 at the Durango High School theater, 7100 W. Dewey Road. The event is open to the public, but the organizers request that everyone arrive before 11:40 a.m.
Retired U.S. Marine Col. Ray Blum, commanding officer of the Devil Pups encampment, is scheduled to speak at the event.
In honor of the 60th year of the Devil Pups program, a special recognition was initiated to recognize a Liaison of the Year. Tomao was chosen to be the first to receive this honor.
Contact East Valley View reporter F. Andrew Taylor at email@example.com or 702-380-4532.