photo - Angel Luiz Orozco
Angel Luiz Orozco 

Ever since he can remember, Angel Luiz Orozco has enjoyed a good challenge. That's why at age 8, he decided to join the Young Marines.

"I knew it was hard," he said. "I liked that it's about making better citizens for the future, developing the individual, their character, who they are."

Now Orozco, described as a hardworking, outgoing and helpful 17-year-old, has been named one of six division winners in a prestigious award from the national youth education and service organization.

Orozco, a junior at Sierra High School in Harrison School District 2, is a 2017 "Division Young Marine of the Year" for states that include Colorado. The six division winners will compete for the national title in May.

"The organization has definitely been a cornerstone in my upbringing," he said this past week. "It taught me a lot about myself, about leadership, about how to live a healthy lifestyle and about moving forward to be successful."

The Young Marines has provided Orozco and its 10,000 other members nationwide many traveling opportunities, including the big kahuna that accompanies his latest award.

Seventy-two years after American military troops erected a flag atop Mount Suribachi on the tiny island of Iwo Jima during an intense battle with the Japanese, Orozco is getting ready to escort World War II veterans around the famous site.

He leaves Sunday on the annual Reunion of Honor trip, that will take him and the five other Young Marines division winners to the islands of Guam and Iwo Jima.

American and Japanese veterans will convene in memory of fallen comrades and the battles that took place there.

Iwo Jima was an essential site in World War II for American troops to land and regroup during bombings. Its capture became immortalized in a Pulitzer Prize-winning photo taken by Joe Rosenthal on Feb. 23, 1945, an image that's been recreated on postage stamps, in sculptures and other depictions.

"It was a big stronghold; it was strategically important to the Americans and the Japanese as well," Orozco said of Iwo Jima.

On the 10-day trip, he will assist veterans during their return to the island, which is only accessible on this one day each year.

"It's a chance to go to where people who changed the course of history went, to stand where they stood and be able to reflect on the way the world changed in that small place, and be with the people who put their lives on the line for that and honor those who did die for that," Orozco said. "It's an amazing experience to be able to have."

Each of the division winners "shares qualities of leadership, self-confidence and good citizenship, and each lives a drug-free lifestyle, which is a cornerstone of the Young Marines," retired Marine Col. William P. Davis, executive director and chief executive officer of the Young Marines, said in a statement.

Orozco is known for maintaining his composure in high-stress situations, being dedicated to completing necessary steps to finish a task and building up younger kids, said Pikes Peak Young Marines unit Commander Kevin Coward.

"He likes to be active in the community, volunteering," Coward said.

Through his involvement with the Young Marines, Orozco also has attended the Pearl Harbor remembrance ceremony in Hawaii, sailing academies in Maryland, Virginia and Oregon, and a training mission in New Mexico.

"I'm willing to work hard, and this is my passion," he said. "Others are able to see this is something I give myself to, 110 percent."

He plans to attend college after graduating in May 2018.