On Saturday, about 45 local teenagers participated in the 2012 Devil Pups Challenge in hopes of being selected as a finalist for an upcoming summer program that will take place at the Marine Corps Camp Pendleton base. The name "devil pups" is derived from "devil dog," a popular nickname for U.S. Marines today and a name once used by enemy troops to describe the Marines they were fighting in World War I.

The name was given due to the Marines' "accomplishments on the battlefield and 'never give up' spirit," said Richard "Dick" Taylor, Kern County liaison representation for the local Devil Pups Inc.

He organized the Bakersfield challenge, which he explained is not a Marine Corps boot camp but instead, part of the nonprofit Devil Pups. The Devil Pups targets youth, boys and girls between the ages of 14 to 17, who are selected to participate in its program that runs from July 19 to July 28 at Camp Pendleton near San Diego. While at the base, the youth learn about the values of leaderships, good citizenship, self-control, confidence, personal discipline, teamwork and respect for others, their family and their country, Taylor said.

"Devil pups live in actual Marine Corps quarters, comply with hours and eat Marine Corps food," Taylor said, noting that the youth will also attend educational lectures. "They will be in contact with only Marines who have been screened and assigned as camp escorts as well as Devil Pups leadership staff. (The youth will) observe various military exercises depending on what training the Marines are having on a particular day."

A graduation ceremony will be held July 28 at the base.

The program annually draws plenty of interest from youth, and competition is fierce.The challenge event was a local youth's opportunity to compete for a coveted Devil Pups slot. About 20 local teens will be selected.

On Saturday, the youth showed up to the testing area near Meadows Field at 6:30 a.m.

They competed in a physical fitness test that involved pull-ups, sit-ups, push-ups and a one-mile run. Taylor and his team of Devil Pups staff volunteers, which included USMC veterans, law enforcement officers and government officials, then held candidate interviews. The staff will make a decision soon on the finalists.

"Ironically, the Devil Pups program is not a recruiting tool for the Marines," Taylor said. "However, about 23 percent of Devil Pups graduates enter the military and not just the Marine Corps. Another interesting statistic is that about 18 percent of Devil Pups graduates go on to pursue a career in law enforcement or firefighting. And although many of these graduates never choose to enter the military, almost all of them count their experience with Devil Pups as a major factor in their life decisions that led to their success as adults."

OFFICER OF THE YEAR: Here's a great opportunity to salute our men and women in uniform. The nonprofit Kern County Law Enforcement Foundation, which supports various police agencies in the county, will hold their annual Officer of the Year awards dinner 6 p.m. Friday, June 8, at the Stockdale Country Club.

The event will bestow a number of awards, including Officer of the Year, Medal of Valor, Exceptional Officer, Volunteer/Public Service Award, Citizen of the Year, Business Man/Woman of the Year, and Lifetime Achievement, said foundation board member Lynn Watkins.

Various local law enforcement agencies nominate individuals who they believe are fitting of the awards. Watkins and foundation member Frank Williams, both retired law enforcement officers, review the large selection of recommendations and narrow down the list to 15 who will be honored June 8.

I have attended this event in the past, and it's pretty inspiring to hear about the heroic efforts of local police officers and military members. In addition, you discover volunteers and businesses that are making our community a better place.

Individual tickets vary from $65 to $100 while group or sponsored tables of 10 are from $700 to $1,000. For more information, email Pauly Wren at pwren@youngnichols.com or call her at 661-861,7911, ext. 110.

MENUDO: For all the Latin food and music lovers, mark your calendars for the 14th annual Latino Food Festival and Menudo Cook-off 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday June 3 at the Kern County Fairgrounds.

The Kern County Hispanic of Commerce hosts the cultural festival, which annually draws thousands of attendees and menudo contestants throughout the state.

Top menudo contest winners receive cash prizes although KCHCC President/CEO Jay Tamsi said it's the "bragging rights" that makes the award valuable to winners. Children activities, other food vendors, and plenty of local and Southern California entertainment will be on hand. Music lovers will enjoy performances of WAR, Mento Buru, The Company Band, Hind Site and Mariachi San Marcos.

Known for their hits, "Why Can't We Be Friends," "Spill the Wine," and "Low Rider," WAR has a loyal fan base in town and will be a significant draw to the event, said Tamsi. Tickets are $8 advance; $10 at the door; and children under five are free. For more information, please call 661-633-5495 or visit kchcc.org.

These are Olivia Garcia's opinions, not necessarily those of The Californian.

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