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Tough dreams: Devil Pups training camp

Posted: August 9, 2009 9:06 p.m.
Updated: August 10, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Josephine Behrens displays the medallion she received from the U.S. Marines after completing her Devil Pups training camp. The exclusive 10-day program for teens mimics the rough and spartan Marine life and emphasizes physical fitness and discipline.

The 14-year-old Valencia girl ate green hot dogs and rehydrated vegetarian meals.

She hiked to the highest point in Camp Pendleton.

She faced screaming Marine drill instructors pushing her through a grueling daily regimen of running, obstacle courses and classroom sessions.

It was all a dream come true for Josephine Behrens.

"I wanted to put myself through a challenge to see if I could do it," she said.

Josephine was 12 when she first heard about the Devil Pups program. Close family friends - retired sheriff's deputies Chuck and Patty Norris - told her about it and, being fascinated by the military, she grew interested.

The soft-spoken girl is not the type one would expect to find in boot camp. She has always been active but a bit shy, said her mother, Caroline Behrens.

"She said, ‘Mom, don't talk me out of this,'" Caroline Behrens said. "She's a very tough young woman. She can be very stubborn. And (when) she sets her mind to something she'll get it."

The exclusive 10-day program for teens - named after the famous "Devil Dogs" moniker the Marines earned during World War I - is one with a highly competitive and selective admission process.

"We want people who can be a leader," said Patty Norris, a coordinator for the program.

Josephine Behrens pursued the program with the tenacity of a determined athlete. Last year she tried out and passed, but was denied entry due to her age - she was only 13.

She spent the next year training her body to withstand the rigors and demands of the program.

"I worked really hard in P.E.," Josephine said. "I ran extra laps. And every chance I could I did pushups and sit ups."

Her hard work paid off.

On a chilly April morning, Caroline took her daughter out to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department Academy in Whittier for a test to become a Devil Pup. The teen passed, doing 54 situps, 34 pushups and running an eight-minute mile.

"I was very nervous, because this time it was for real, not like last year. If I didn't get in I would have had to wait a year, so I was determined."

To think that all this was just to get into the program - the actual camp wouldn't start until July.

Thus it came to pass that this soccer-playing, self-described "skater girl" from Valencia boarded a Camp Pendleton-bound bus filled with experienced ROTC girls.

The tense calm on the bus was shattered shortly after their arrival as a screaming drill sergeant hopped on board and gave the teens a special welcome.

The sergeant boomed, "The first things out of your mouth are ‘Yes, sir' or ‘No, sir.' You have 15 seconds to get off my bus. Now, get off my bus!" Josephine said.

That's when she began to worry whether she'd taken on more than she could handle.

Over the next 10 days, the Devil Pups were subjected to the rough and spartan Marine life.

There were no televisions, radios or phones. The teens were allowed to write letters home, but even that was closely supervised.

"They told us what to write," she said. "They gave us a form letter and all I was supposed to write was my name, but I sneaked in an ‘I love you.'"

Her mother was wary of the program at first. She kept her phone on her at all times, in case her little girl wanted to come home.

"I had my phone on vibrate, ready to go in case somebody called me," said Caroline. "But she stuck with it."

Indeed, Josephine braved more than a week of physical stress and green hot dogs.

"It wasn't good at all," Josephine said of the Marine cuisine. "But you had to eat it because you knew it was the only food you were going to get."

But after all of that, she still had to face Old Smokey.

Old Smokey is the highest point in Camp Pendleton and represents a final physical and metaphorical challenge.

"Climbing up there, I thought I was going to tumble off it," said Josephine. "But the view is amazing. I was in tears."

It was there she was handed a coin with the Devil Pups logo on one side and the Iwo Jima Memorial on the other.

"A lot of things go through your head," she said.

Two days later, Behrens' platoon graduated with honors. But the worn-out junior high-schooler just wanted to go home and see her family.

Behrens starts eighth grade in the fall and believes that she has been changed for the better as a result of her trials.

"I definitely have a better appreciation for all the things I have at home," she said. "It taught me to never quit and I'm ready to take on a new challenge."

Next year she plans to talk with Devil Pups the applicants, letting them know the ordeal is worth the challenges.

"I just want to tell them that it might be really hard and you might want to quit," she said, but "the payoff is really amazing."


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