Future leader of the Few and the Proud
WRITTEN BY Julie Drake
When Shadow Hills Intermediate School eighth-grader William Daniels considered his future career options, president of the United States was near the top of his list.
But after joining the Antelope Valley Young Marines about four years ago William decided he would rather be the commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, that military branch’s highest-ranking officer who is also a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“I plan on being in the Marines for the rest of my life,” he said. That career path includes college and becoming a Marine Corps officer.
William started with the Young Marines about four years ago. The catalyst for joining the group were his two female cousins, who had achieved the high ranks of staff sergeant and corporal in the Young Marines.
William had visited their apartment with his father and saw their uniforms adorned with ribbons and ranks. William, then 9 years old, figured if they could do it, so could he. So he joined the group.
“That first second when I got there, it was like I knew this is what I want to do, this is what I want to do,” William said.
William is a corporal and second-in-command of the Antelope Valley Young Marines, which has between 50 and 60 members, ages 8 to 18.
Leadership is not a matter of “my rank is higher than yours, so you have to listen to me,” according to William.
“You have to get them to want to listen to you. The things you do, you have to lead by example,” William explained. “So, if they’re running, you have to run 10 times faster than them, then they respect you.”
William has 22 ribbons, the most of anyone in his unit. His highest-level ribbon is the Commendation of Merit, awarded to him in his capacity as a Young Marine recruit instructor.
“He does have excellent leadership skills,” Young Marines Unit Cmdr. Danny Chinchilla said in a telephone interview. Young Marine Daniels is what we term as a ‘locked-on’ Marine.
“He’s got excellent bearing. He always maintains himself, keeps in control. He is one of my, when it comes to drilling and instructing other children, he’s one of the best.”
Chinchilla said William has a lot of duties as the unit’s color guard commander.
“He’s got the ability to assess a situation and then choose the proper course of action,” he said.
Chinchilla said William is in the process of getting a promotion to sergeant. “He’s just outstanding. I do depend on him a lot,” he said.
William’s father, Lafrance Daniels Jr., served in the U.S. Air Force. His mother, Laura Daniels, did not serve in the military.
“When I was younger I did not even imagine joining the military. I imagined things like president, engineer, things like that. The military just clicked with me,” William said.
A respectful young man who wears his hair “high and tight,” a signature Marine Corps look, William might seem like a young man who doesn’t need a reminder from Mom to clean his room.
“She does, she does,” he said, laughing lightly. “All the time, actually.”
William admitted his bedroom isn’t a bastion of order. “That’s a flaw, but everyone’s got flaws,” he said.
William spends about six hours every Saturday morning with the Young Marines.
“People see it as, it’s hard to make that commitment. Really, it isn’t. If you love something that’s just what you do,” he said.
William was born in Los Angeles. He and his family, including older brother Lafrance III and younger sister Kimberly, moved to the Antelope Valley about eight years ago. That was a big change for the young man.
“When I first came here I was looking at the mountains. I was like, ‘Look, there’s mountains.’ Because in Los Angeles you just see skyscrapers, smog,” he said.
About two or three years ago William started playing the violin. He was inspired by his brother Lafrance, who plays the cello.
“I like music. I like sound. I like things that sound nice, things that sound, basically,” he said. “And music is just, it’s beautiful. I mean, there’s so many notes to learn it’s all an experience.”
He intends to continue playing the violin. He chose the instrument over the cello or bass because it has a lighter sound that stands out, he said.
William is also one of 10 Shadow Hills students who received Community Emergency Response Team, or CERT, training this year. He is certified to assist in the event of a disaster.
“I heard of CERT over the announcements, they said Community Emergency Response Team,” he recalled.
The CERT Academy was a natural fit for William, who is trained in cardiopulmonary resuscitation, swim qualification and land navigation.
“I got that all from the Young Marines,” he said.
William might seem like a humorless young man who is all business, but he says that is not the case. He plays video games and hangs out with his friends.
“I’m not serious all the time,” he said. “I’m a normal kid. It’s just, I have skills.”
William is also a leader at school. He serves as president of Shadow Hill’s School Site Council, a group that typically works with the principal to help develop the school budget and plan. William is one of three students on the council, which also includes parents.
A student leading the group is unusual, but William is an exceptional young man.
Shadow Hills Principal Barbara Gaines said that before William, she could not imagine a student taking on such a responsibility.
When she met William, then a seventh-grader, Gaines saw how he followed Robert’s Rules of Order and conducted the meeting in a professional manner.
“He’s learning all these procedures, he does such a great job with them that after I met him I said, ‘Absolutely he can be president of the School Site Council,’” Gaines said.
Gaines said William is a leader in anything he does.
“William wears many hats at Shadow Hills. He’s an exceptional young man who uses his leadership skills as the School Site Council president, member of the CERT team, plays in our second-year strings and is a role model for our students at Shadow Hills. It is a pleasure having William Daniels as a student.” Gaines said.
William learned about the School Site Council through his involvement with Shadow Hill’s Associated Student Body.
“I was in seventh grade. You’re not allowed to be an officer if you’re a seventh-grader,” he said.
Then an ASB officer announced there was an opening on the School Site Council. Eight students applied. William became the student representative after he was the only one to give a speech.
“All of us contribute to everything. We all discuss the budgets, we all discuss different things. ... Everyone has to put some input in, and it creates a working machine,” he said. “It’s really nice. I really like it.”