At 12 years old, the Kennesaw native said he “wanted the structure and discipline” associated with the military, so he switched from Scouts to the Young Marines in 2008.
In the six years since, Baker has risen to the top of the program, garnering honors that include the state’s Young Marine of the Year for 2013-14.
“You get the military atmosphere and structure you’d find in ROTC,” Baker said of the Young Marines. “Everything is youth-led, and that is fantastic for getting management and leadership experience.”
Baker retired from the program upon graduation from Harrison High School this year as a Sergeant Major, where he said he was responsible for about 100 young Marines across the units in Canton, Cartersville, Rome and Carrollton that make up Georgia’s 1st Battalion.
In the role, Baker said he served as a “figurehead” for the division and helped direct training and day-to-day operations.
He said he will return to the program as an adult staff member in order to continue helping his unit.
Darryl Wright, commander of the metro-Atlanta Young Marines, said Baker was what he would call a “model Young Marine.”
“He’s a very strong leader. The other kids totally respect him,” Wright said of Baker. “He knows when to lead and when to have a little bit of fun. (The program) has a military bearing, but it’s not a military organization, so there are times when we get to have fun.”
He touted Baker’s ability to keep to the rules and act appropriately.
The Young Marines features team-building, fitness drills, drug education and leadership training, Baker said.
As a major advocate of youth drug demand reduction, Baker said the program encourages its members to teach the public “facts on why not to do drugs.” Wright called the organization a service program and clarified it is not a recruitment arm for the Marines — although he said many of its members already have some type of interest in the military when they join.
Last year, Baker was one of two Young Marines to receive a national scholarship given to one male and one female in the program.
He said he had to submit his resume as part of the selection process, which culminated in a Washington, D.C. ceremony.
The award included an opportunity to travel to Guam and Iwo Jima with World War II veterans this spring, which Wright called the “trip of a lifetime.”
Baker said he likes to dedicate much of his time outside the Young Marines to music.
“I like to play the cello, and I’ve been playing at school,” he said. “I started in middle school, and I’ve kept with it. I still play it at church regularly on Sundays.”
During his senior year at Harrison High, Baker served as vice president of the school’s orchestra. He has also spent five years as a cellist in the orchestra at Roswell Street Baptist Church.
Baker said he plans to attend the University of North Georgia, where he will pursue a degree in criminal justice while serving in the Corps of Cadets.
He said his diabetes will ultimately keep him from joining the “real Marines,” but he will participate in his university’s military program.
“When I was 12, I didn’t have the courage to stand up in front of people,” Baker said. “The confidence and the ability to manage groups of people has been my favorite part, as well as the friendships I’ve made around the county.”
Baker said he will spend today helping his unit in Canton march in the city’s parade.