A retired U.S. Marine Corps commandant said Sunday in Baton Rouge that the United States’ chances of future success in Afghanistan are slim because of the complexity of the situation there.

Gen. Charles C. Krulak, who retired in 1999 as the Marine Corps’ highest-ranking officer and as a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said establishing an independent democracy in Afghanistan is difficult because, “It’s such a tribal state.”

“You’re talking about a country that many, many nations have attempted to change,” Krulak said before he spoke to a group of high school students at First United Methodist Church on Sunday.

President Barack Obama announced June 22 that he will withdraw 10,000 American troops from Afghanistan by the end of the year and 33,000 by September 2012.

Krulak said he was recently invited to testify in front of the House Armed Services Committee about the United States’ direction in Afghanistan, but he declined because it would have conflicted with his schedule as president of Birmingham-Southern College, in Birmingham, Ala.

While the retired general may not see a bright future in Afghanistan, he said he has high hopes for the potential of America’s youth.

Krulak spoke to a small group of Baton Rouge high school students at a college preparation forum called “Bishop’s College Day.”

It was hosted by Bishop Bob Fannin, interim pastor of First United Methodist Church.

The church brought in representatives from a number of schools across the country to give the students advice on subjects such as keeping their résumés well-rounded and placing importance on application essays.

Colleges represented included American University, in Washington, D.C.; Millsaps College, in Jackson, Miss.; and Vanderbilt University, in Nashville, Tenn.

Krulak said he immediately accepted the offer to speak at the forum because his faith in youth willing to take on challenges “knows no bounds.”

“To me, young people are critical,” Krulak said. “I’ve spent my life around youth.”

Krulak told the students they would lead the nation and the world “for the greater part of the 21st century.”

“They will find the cure for cancer,” he said, while specifically addressing the students’ parents. “They will find an economic model that works in the 21st century. They will handle the geopolitical problems that fester around the world today.”

Krulak’s message focused on maintaining strong character based on three main points: being selfless, having moral courage and keeping integrity.

“You do not own anything but your integrity,” Krulak told the students. “No one can take it from you. No one. The problem is, you can give it away.”

Krulak told a story of his time in the Vietnam War in 1966, which he joked was a time when “the crust of the Earth was just cooling.”

He was a second lieutenant in his first tour of Vietnam. He was forced to serve as his company’s leader after his commander was killed in action.

During one mission in a valley in Vietnam, his company came under attack, forcing several squads to lay down during heavy fire.

One 17-year-old soldier, though, dug up enough courage to run straight at a heavy artillery gun, drawing fire away from the other soldiers, Krulak said.

The Marine died during the charge, but the distraction was enough for the other soldiers to attack the gun and take it out, saving dozens of Marines in the process.

But there was a catch — the Marine was black. He faced discrimination in his home state of Mississippi, Krulak said.

“He could not go into a drugstore, put a dollar on the table and get served,” Krulak said. “And yet there was something special inside of him.”

The moment stuck with Krulak.

“From that moment on, I realized what youth of our country are, can be and will be,” he told the audience.

Information from Advocate Washington correspondent Gerard Shields was used in this report.