Public Safety

Juvenile Offenders Honor Military

Probation’s Juvenile Ranch Facility has an honorable—and challenging—Memorial Day tradition. 

Each year, on the day after the holiday, a small group of young offenders travel from the facility where they live in Campo to Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in Point Loma. There, they remove tens of thousands of small American flags placed just days earlier beside each tombstone. The act honors the brave men and women who have served the U.S. military and gives the teens a sense of the sacrifice they have made.

“Being here really makes you think,” said one offender. “I’m really shocked how many graves are here.”

Correctional Deputy Probation Officer Alejandro Leos organized the project. He is also a U.S. Air Force Reserve master sergeant.

“This is more than service, this is a learning opportunity for them,” said Leos.

Tuesday’s efforts marked the 29th consecutive year that youth from Juvenile Ranch Facility, a behavioral and drug/alcohol rehabilitative facility serving males between the ages of 13 and 16, have volunteered for to remove the flags. A total of 11 teens attended this year and removed about 52,000 flags—more than half of the 92,000 flags placed at the national military cemetery during Memorial Day weekend.

Leos explained the annual undertaking has been led by three different Deputy Probation Officers over three decades. He said it started out with Senior Probation Office David Labadie, who has family buried in the cemetery, and then carried on under Senior Probation Officer John P. “J.P.” Martin. Leos took over 15 years ago, participating every year except when he has been deployed.

“For me this is not just picking up the flag, this is about family,” said Leos. “Some of my friends are here.”

Leos said he tries to pass along to the youth a sense of pride and respect for those who serve in the military.

“I try to instill that the military takes care of you,” he said.

The teens selected for the work were between 14 and 16 years old. Probation staff chose them based upon their good behavior and desire to serve.

One teen described volunteering at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery as an honor.

“I really wanted to help out and am happy to be here helping even a little,” he said.

Also read: Behind-the-Scenes Tours of Juvenile Hall Provides Valuable Lessons

Michelle Mowad is a communications specialist with the County of San Diego Communications Office. Contact