News & Blogs

Developing Leaders

By RADM J. Scott Burhoe & Dan Thompson

A blog post published this week by John Chubb, the President of the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS), got me thinking about just how different Fork Union Military Academy is from so many other schools.

Chubb's blog article entitled "What is Leadership?" describes his own experience in taking the reins of the NAIS, the nation's largest association of private schools. The first paragraph begins with this remarkable admission: "I was unprepared to be a leader." A noted scholar, teacher, and researcher, Chubb's résumé is broad and impressive. His career has included positions at Stanford University and the Brookings Institute. His selection as the top leader in an organization made up of the finest schools in the nation is a reflection of the respect his peers have for his skills and reputation in the world of education. And yet, Chubb had never received any training or experience in how to be a leader.

For more than a hundred years, students have graduated from Fork Union Military Academy with more formal training and practical experience in leadership than most people will receive in a lifetime. This focus on leadership development is one key area that sets our Academy apart from other schools in the nation. While a handful of students in another school might participate in some type of student government or campaign in a popularity contest for class president, the Corps of Cadets at Fork Union Military Academy offers dozens of students each year the opportunity to practice genuine leadership among their peers in roles with real responsibility.

The Corps of Cadets is student-run, with adult supervision. Cadets are organized into squads of a handful of boys, led by a squad leader. Those squads join together with others to form a platoon of twenty or thirty cadets, with a platoon sergeant and a cadet officer assigned as platoon leader. Those platoons join with others to form a company with perhaps seventy to one hundred cadets led by a company commander, supported by an executive officer and a first sergeant. The companies join together to form the battalion, with a battalion commander and his staff of officers and non-commissioned officers.

This leadership structure oversees the daily activities of students, seeing to it that daily chores are carried out, discipline is maintained, esprit de corps is built, and each student is surrounded by a positive atmosphere of achievement and accomplishment. This is not just some role-playing game with students pretending to be leaders. Cadet leaders get real-world experience in team building, leading by example, the use of discretion in dealing with disciplinary issues, and motivating others. This is the kind of practical experience that builds the skills and confidence needed to succeed in a competitive world.

In a speech at US Military Academy at West Point in 1991, General Norman Schwarzkopf told the cadets of his alma mater, "To be a 21st-century leader, you must have two things: competence and character." Fork Union Military Academy has long recognized this intertwining need for developing leadership skills and character together. Indeed, this call for character building combined with leadership development was enshrined in our school's mission statement long before the 21st century rolled around.

This year, in a move designed to both highlight this area of emphasis and to further improve our efforts in this field, we have created a new staff position, the Director of Character and Leadership Development. LTC Houston Eldridge has been selected to take on this new role, and he will be providing training and daily mentoring for our cadet leaders. LTC Eldridge has served as a social studies teacher at the Academy for more than fifteen years. He has been teaching a very popular leadership course in our summer school for the past several years and has served as Scoutmaster for the Academy's Boy Scout Troop 125. LTC Eldridge will work within the commandant's office and report directly to school president, RADM J. Scott Burhoe, as he develops a new and improved comprehensive program of character and leadership development for the Academy.

Our graduates will continue to succeed in leadership roles throughout the business world, in the military, and even, like John Chubb, in the field of education. Those graduates will follow in the footsteps of alumni such as Joseph Cosby (FUMA Class of 1921) who served many years as the president of Hargrave Military Academy, or Edward Jennings (FUMA Class of 1955) who was the tenth President of Ohio State University. We can predict confidently that these alumni will be men who will look back and say, "I was well prepared to be a leader, thanks to the education I received at Fork Union Military Academy."

Go cadet leadership! Go FUMA!

Finish - Rest - Refresh - Recharge - Renew - Begin Again

If you are reading this from the website, you can see for yourself how well we finished.  The 116th Commencement is well documented, and we were all blessed by the keynote speech given by 1LT Brian Zitterkopf, USMC, who graduated from FUMA in 2008, the USNA in 2012, and is now on active duty with the United States Marines.  He was inspirational, and more importantly kept the attention of our graduates, who were anxious to begin the next chapter in their lives, better for having experienced Fork Union.

The entire week of graduation went extremely well...punctuated by the very positive behavior of our undergraduates and the Class of 2014.  I visited Jacobson Hall the next day, and was impressed to find that our new dormitory looked as good as the day we moved in...less than two years ago (believe it or not).  Today it looks as good as the day we moved in.

Since graduation we've hosted three one-week swim camps, and are now in the middle of summer school, and a basketball camp we are sponsoring (as a school) for the first time.  It has been energizing to see the camps so full of young people being refreshed in body, mind, and spirit.

A week after graduation, Betsy and I loaded up our bikes...filled the car with our most comfortable clothes...and headed west to Mount Rogers National Recreational Area to my favorite spot in the mountains.  Thankfully there is still no cell phone coverage, but TV and internet was available...but sparsely used.  The week was filled with runs, walks, bike rides, reading books, great food, one quick rescue of a runner from SC who lost his footing, and even an evening of "culture" in nearby Abingdon, for a live performance of "Welcome Back to Ivy Gap" at the Barter Theater.

It was a wonderful "getaway," and an opportunity to rest, refresh, recharge, read, and renew.  I was able to read 4 of the 6 books I took along...and finally found a book which will be our first "All Faculty Read."  I ordered 20 copies of The Other Wes Moore written by Wes Moore which will be in the library available for checkout, but know many of our faculty will download the book electronically [maybe after reading this blog]. 

I really only have 19 copies, because I gave one to a Summer School student yesterday afternoon, believing that many of the points made by the author might help him understand the crossroads he now faces...okay, 18, because I talked about the book so much, my Secretary, Ms. Carol Childress wanted to read it...

We then visited Florida to celebrate my mother's 89th birthday...the next time we see her will be in early August when she drives up to Winchester to visit her 3 (of 4) great-grandchildren  My mother has missed my blog these last 5 I needed to start it back up.

As the Navy SEAL's say, "the only easy day was yesterday."   We are working diligently at Fork Union Military Academy to make next year the best school year in our history.  There are many important changes in strategy, structure, personnel, schedule, and facilities we will be implementing over the summer and at the beginning of the school year.  Our core values and mission, however, remain timeless.

All the improvements are consistent with yearlong discussions with faculty, staff, trustees, cadets, and parents...validated by some parent/cadet surveys.  We are reformatting the ever-important Cadet regulations, to make it easier to read and understand, as well as making policies clearer.  We are also clarifying our uniform regulations, as this will continue to be a point of emphasis this year. 

LTC Houston Eldridge, our Director of Character and Leadership, is also meeting regularly with me and the Commandant of Cadets to ensure we fully integrate character and leadership throughout the Academy, with emphasis on our cadet leaders and those of us who interact directly and often with cadets.

We are continuing forward momentum toward the vision articulated in our strategic plan, and all our summer adjustments will help us educate and develop "bright young men who can lead with character."

Over the summer we took the Dorothy Estes Dining Facility off our central boiler, and onto its own domestic hot water system.  Sounds dull, but it is expensive and hard work.  Hobart is building us a custom dishwasher, the latest water saving model, which will be installed in mid-August, just in time to start the school year. 

The project was funded primarily through a bequest by Jon Richardson, a trustee and alumnus who passed away after a long battle with cancer.  He and I spoke of this project, and he was pleased to know we could invest money now to save money later (in water and fuel oil).  This change will allow us to shut the boilers down 6 months each year, saving enough in 3 years to pay for the project...besides the immediate reduction in our carbon footprint.

We also plan to give Wicker Science a facelift, matching the color with the surrounding buildings, are adding overhead projectors to every classroom, upgrading our phones to voice over IP, painting as many places as can be painted, upgrading some faculty housing, improving classroom décor, and looking for a four day "no rain" window so we can repaint our football stadium.

This summer also included a number of meetings on our Master Plan.  We expect it completed by the October Board of Trustees meeting, to help inform a campaign to make the strategic planning and master planning a reality.  We also selected our cadet leaders for next year, and invited our very best to attend leadership training which begins a week before school starts.  This requires quite a commitment of time and energy, but the effective way to learn to lead is to lead...and this year's student leaders will be the best led since the school's founding.

All the prospective leaders are enthusiastic, optimistic, and willing to do the hard work necessary to help guide their classmates and underclassmen in a journey of accountability and discipline.

Let the 117th School Year begin!  Go FUMA!

Fork Union's Ali Khalafalla ranked as #2 top individual performances of 2013-2014

Scrimmage Play magazine recently published their list of the "Top 10 Individual Performances" of the 2013-2014 school year, and Fork Union's own Ali Khalafalla came in ranked at #2 for his dominating performance at the VISAA Swimming State Championship meet. Congratulations, Ali!



Coach Shuman making an impact at Virginia Tech. No, not THAT Coach Shuman, the other one.

Coach Shuman is continuing to make an impact at Virginia Tech these days. Coach Ryan Shuman, that is. The son of legendary football coach John Shuman, Ryan is the Olympic Sports Strength and Conditioning Coordinator at Virginia Tech. Having played football as a three-year starter for the Hokies, Ryan continued on as a graduate assistant while pursuing his masters degree, and now is a full-time staff member.

As the articles below in the Roanoke and Richmond newspapers describe it, Coach Shuman sounds like a chip off of the old block, coaching with the same level of skill and quiet, self-deprecating humor for which his famous father is known.



Summer School Check In Begins Sunday, June 29th at 9:00 am

Check In and registration for Summer School at Fork Union Military Academy will begin this Sunday, June 29, 2014, at 9:00 am, continuing until 11:00 am. Check in will take place in the Estes Dining Hall on campus. Families arriving for registration should be sure to bring all required forms, all of which can be found in the Summer School Students selection of forms in our Download Forms center on the website. The Health Form MUST be completed prior to registration or the student will not be permitted to check in and stay on campus. You will find a list of the supplies and items to bring with you for summer school in the selected download forms.


Chicago 2014 -- National Forensics and Debate Tournament

Over 4000 people - students, coaches, judges, parents, friends, volunteers -- convened in Chicago during the Memorial Day weekend to be a part of the National Catholic Forensic League's Grand National Tournament.  Approximately 2700 students attended and competed in many categories -- Original Oratory, Declamation, Dramatic Performance, Duo Interpretation, Extemporaneous Speaking, Oral Interpretation, Lincoln Douglas Debate, Public Forum Debate, Policy Debate, and Student Congress.  Student Congress results can be viewed beginning on page 87 at (
From FUMA, freshman Cadet Michael Head, was one of the 219 students who competed in Student Congress.  On Friday morning - May 23, 2014 - Michael began his trip to Chicago.  He traveled to Richmond where he boarded a plane to Chicago.  Michael was accompanied by his parents, Miss Welch and Mrs. Giszack.   After landing in Chicago, we needed to travel about 15 miles to our downtown hotel - the Chicago Hilton and Towers.  In bumper-to-bumper traffic we made the trek in about an hour and 20 minutes.