The President's Blog

From the President of Fork Union Military Academy, Rear Admiral J. Scott Burhoe.


I took an unexpected break from the blog last week, spending my "blog night" preparing remarks for the retirement of a Coast Guardsman who served as my facility engineer at the Coast Guard Academy.  He asked me to be his guest speaker, and I enjoyed seeing old friends, and making sure CDR Scott Gesele retired with the same respect, dignity, and professionalism with which he served.

From there, Betsy and I drove north to see all three of our grandchildren, and celebrate my daughter's birthday, taking time on Sunday for a "good old fashioned" Easter egg hunt, which appeared much more competitive than I remember as a child.  It brought great joy to have a special time with John Thomas, Emily Grace, and James Scott, looking into their eyes and reminding them how blessed they are to be loved by so many.

We've seen every kind of weather this week...rain, sun, spring warmth, and freezing cold...but the campus is transforming...and giving us glimpses of how beautiful it will be by the May Board of Trustee meetings and Alumni Weekend.  We are looking forward to celebrating Honorary Alumni Awards, a Distinguished Alumnus, and the 50th reunion for the Class of 1964.  It will be an exciting weekend...action packed.

Of course this is Easter [leave] weekend, a special time of renewal and rebirth...a time to reflect on the essence of Christianity...and the hope, grace, and forgiveness we can learn from a life well lived.  Many look forward to spending time with family, and only a small percentage of our cadets [who live too far away] will remain on campus.

This morning at Chapel, Josh Davis, an Olympic swimmer who won three gold medals for the USA in 1996 and two silver medals in 2000, gave a very personal and powerful message to all of us about faith and making good choices.  He said that a good coach or mentor believes in you, encourages you, and gives you truth.  They give you skill, motivation, and love...

What I most enjoyed was his definition of freedom.  He said that many believe freedom is the ability to do whatever you want, with whoever you want, when you want; yet he defined true freedom as the ability to do the right thing whenever you want regardless of what anyone else is doing around you.

His message was filled with energy, passion, and terrific advice on allowing God to be our coach, and he encouraged us to heed the advice provided in scripture.  This way we can live our lives with true from the many worldly influences that block us from reaching our full potential.  More information about Josh Davis can be found at

Earlier this week we were visited by two members from the Charles B. Keesee Educational Fund, which was established in 1941 by Mr. and Mrs. Charles B. Keesee of Martinsville, Virginia, for the purpose of aiding worthy men and women to obtain an education.  The Board's generosity has allowed over twenty cadets to receive scholarships of between $2,500 and $5,000.  We enjoy our relationship and having their board members visit to learn more about Fork Union Military Academy. 

We spoke at length about the school's past and its future, attended Tuesday's Chapel service, enjoyed a delicious lunch (with two cadets) at Careby Hall, then they had a cadet-led tour, and I answered some final questions.  The visit provided direct interaction with three of the scholarship recipients, and put a face on their gift of education.  It was clear that we share a passion for open access to quality private education, and an interest in providing values-based education that builds character in tomorrow's leaders.

I was encouraged that over 60 cadets plan to attend our annual Military Ball on April 26th.  With dates, there will be over 120 young people attending, all in their most formal attire.  This year the event will return to Thomas Gym with a live professional DJ (an alumnus) and the seniors will attend free, thanks to a productive cadet-led Social Center enterprise that sold popcorn, treats, and soft drinks throughout the school year.  The seniors will enter through a traditional arch of sabres.

This year we will be starting a new tradition.  On May 7th we've invited all the seniors and postgraduates to wear a shirt that represents the college they've chosen to attend.  There is still debate on whether the staff should join in by wearing shirts representing their alma mater, but this day will be another incentive for our underclassmen to achieve their goal of college acceptance at the school of their dreams (or their budget).  There are some special colors I'll be looking for...but any color representing college acceptance will be cherished.

Last weekend we hosted Eddie George as the Annual Gus Lacy Track Meet guest of honor.  It is always wonderful to have him back on campus...and from the pictures on social media, it looked like cadets and competitors alike welcomed him with enthusiasm.  Eddie George is also the newest member of our Board of Trustees, and we look forward to having him be an important force in the future of Fork Union Military Academy.

That same Saturday FUMA won 1st place in the High School Division at our Annual Chess Open.  Cadet Kang was our leader with 3 out of 4 wins.  Please see the picture below:

One of my highlights this week was not my annual physical, but was an interview by the 7th grade Drama Class.  They asked me several questions while being videotaped.  The questions ranged from "Why did you join the Coast Guard?" to "If you could visit anywhere in the world, where would it be?" to "Who had the most influence on your life?"

Someday we may publish the entire interview, but I'll close by answering the "influence" question.  I answered that it was my mother.  She taught me to work hard, be nice to those around me, and she prepared me for independence.  I learned today that my mother also taught me to be free.

Only 122 days until Cadet Officers report for the 2014-2015 Academy Year, 134 days until classes begin, and 36 days to this year's Upper School Commencement, and 34 days to the MS graduation. 


Great Joy

Every opportunity to interact with cadets brings me great joy.  Not every interaction is equally pleasant, for me or the student, but each opportunity is a reason to rejoice, and magnifies my sense of purpose.  With the upcoming decennial reaccreditation (the visit is just one year away), master planning in full swing, studying the feasibility of a campaign to increase the breadth and scope of our access scholarships, and a variety of leadership opportunities on boards and associations, there is a pull to spend time on "more strategic" matters.  My body, mind, and spirit though, and the most rewarding part of my job, will always center on the individual cadet experience.

My workday ended by watching the Prep Lacrosse team handily defeat the Miller School, just two days after a victory over Benedictine.  The day after the Benedictine win I had a voicemail from a gentleman whose bad timing put him behind the entire team as he entered McDonald's to pick up dinner for he and his wife.  He was impressed by the demeanor and maturity of our team, and called to tell me that the team decided that he should go to the head of the he wouldn't be late getting home with dinner.

This morning I received an email from the mother of a visiting middle school lacrosse player, who shared that she was impressed by the hospitality and good manners of a small group of 9th and 10th grade cadets.  She said "it is infrequent that a group of students would strike up a conversation with visiting spectators and parents, and I wanted to commend you on having such a fine group of young men - all of them - nearly a dozen who had stopped to support the team were friendly and welcoming."  What a great way to start my day...

Just before leaving my office for the lacrosse game, COL Chris Nothnagle brought a member of our Woodworking Club, Cadet Rodriquez, by my office to show off a project he'd completed.  He created a wooden bowl, blending cherry and mahogany...a gift for his mother.  Betsy stopped by at the same time (to get me out of the office and to the sporting events) and we both told this young man just how much his mother was going to love the gift.

I also learned this week that one of our cadets earned his Eagle Scout rank...congratulations to Cadet Aaron Pekala who passed his Board of Review, and will soon receive his Court of Honor.  Becoming an Eagle Scout in April of 1969 is one of my proudest achievements...certainly laying the groundwork for the work to follow. 

I told a few people this week that the many challenges and opportunities here have led me to read from two different "daily devotionals" in addition to the scripture reading I receive by email each morning from  One of the readings happened to include the Parable of the Talents.  I used this story when speaking with a young cadet I will call Isaiah earlier this week.

This young man is bright, a gifted athlete, and has a biblical name.  An expression I've used often is that "to those who much is given, much is expected."  God wants us to use all our talents...and those who have more talent must give back even more...just as Jesus shared in this parable.  The parable suggests that failure to use one's gifts could result in judgment, but it seems to me that it just makes sense that if one is provided gifts, they should never remain in darkness, but be nurtured and brought fully into the light. 

I did my best to convince this young man to make full use of all the gifts available to him...encouraging him to allow Fork Union Military Academy to do what it does best, which is to build character and teach leadership in a setting that encourages mental, physical, and spiritual growth.  Our system works best when the cadets acknowledge and accept its value, and give their all.

The good weather brought with it increased military drill, and the issuing of demilitarized M-1's for the upcoming parades.  Military drill teaches teamwork, leadership, followership, precision, pride, and even patience.  I've always enjoyed parades, and the Sunday pass-in-reviews exemplify the military character of our school, and illustrate the simplicity of chain of command and accountability.  My son recently sent me a copy of a picture that used to hang in his room, that he passed along to his son...the challenge is that now I need to tell James Scott the names of all those marching with me.

The picture brought back great memories of full honors ceremonies on the White House lawn during the President Carter administration, and I post it here as proof that I actually did my share of parades and ceremonies, earning the privilege of now watching and reviewing.  It is indeed an honor to officiate at each review, whether here at Fork Union, or each Friday afternoon at the United States Coast Guard Academy.

This week brought many opportunities to mentor cadets, and it was refreshing to see what a little warmth and sunshine did to bring smiles to their faces.  Chaplain Benson walked around the campus on Monday afternoon taking pictures...and showed them during Chapel services on Tuesday, entitling his message "Think about living life like someone is pointing a camera at you."

His point, which was evident in each picture, was that when a camera points toward us we typically smile, and want to look and act our very best.  He suggested that God has a camera on us all the time...

As much as the cadets bring me joy, this school is also blessed with fine faculty, staff, and administrators.  In an upcoming blog, I will feature those who are electing to retire this year, which looks to be a year of transition.  We'll bring in good people, and there is significant interest by many who embrace our mission of educating, developing, and inspiring young men to lead with character.  I will close the blog with excerpts from one of the retirement letters:

"I have loved this school since the first time I came here...I could not have had a better place to raise my children and spend [many] years employed.  I have made the dearest and best friends here, both faculty and staff and cadets, past and present.  I have met people here who some would only dream of meeting.

I have seen young boys come through the gates and leave as men.  FUMA not only instills high standards for its students, but also for its employees.  I know that I am a better person for having been a part of this great school for so many years.

I want to leave knowing I did my best and hoping that I may have made a difference along the way.  I think that is the way everyone should leave.  I pray that the future of FUMA is bright and that it will flourish in the coming years."


Resilience, Tenacity, Grit

Today marked another "first" for Fork Union Military Academy.  I proudly presented a Presidential Unit Award to the Corps of Cadets, faculty, staff, and administrators.  There is more information on our website at the following link:

Presidential Unit Award

Many experts believe that to be truly successful, resilience, tenacity, and grit are essential.  I've been impressed by the abundance of these characteristics in our cadets this winter. 

On Wednesday Cadet Lieutenant Paul Webb, a senior in his third year at Fork Union, stopped by my office to share a poem he'd written.  I love poetry, and another staff member encouraged him to share the poem with me.  It describes the school from the eyes of a graduating senior...and he told me I could publish the poem in my blog.  Completely unedited by me, many will be able to relate to his perspective:

Place of Happy and of Sad

His poem speaks of the strong bonds and relationships formed here that last a lifetime...we are (of course) working hard on having cadets appreciate the value of the experience earlier in the journey.  One of the purposes behind today's unit award was to have each young man understand that struggle is necessary for growth.  Character is revealed (and learned) when life is lived to its fullest, not when we seek comfort and ease.

Our Annual Phone-a-thon was in full swing last week and this week.  Our cadets were quite successful in helping us raise our goal of $100,000 to help make up the difference between tuition and what it "really" costs us to educate, develop, and inspire cadets.  Many alumni expressed concern that cadets missed some of their CQ (Call to Quarters [study time]) in order to make calls.  We were very selective in choosing the I can guarantee that they studied enough to be well prepared for their classes and college.

I was on the phone a great deal myself this week, checking with the Class of 1964 about 50 year reunion plans, following up with members of our Board of Trustees as we make final preparations for our semi-annual meeting in May, and had a wonderful conversation with the spouse of a graduate who told me fascinating stories about her late husband, saying that he once told her that next to marrying her, attending Fork Union Military Academy "was the best decision he ever made." 

As many of you are aware, we made a decision earlier this year to convert our indoor range and rifle team to a .177cal air rifle team and range.  We are selling our rifles to a licensed and trusted company who will provide us with ten Crosman Challenger PCP air rifles for competitive use by the FUMA Rifle Team, along with a check for the remainder.  The Crosman Challenger rifles are the choice of many JROTC teams around the country, and we are excited to have these rifles for use by our Rifle Team cadets.

In addition, FUMA was recently approved for an NRA grant, with the intent to make marksmanship and gun safety available to all FUMA cadets.  Monies from this grant have been used to purchase ten (10) Diana RWS 34 Panther rifles, a steel gun cabinet, 5,000 targets, and 7,500 lead-free pellets for general use by the Corps of Cadets.

This is a large step forward in environmental and financial sustainability, plus we will be able to offer another activity to all cadets, not just those members of the rifle team.  As a young man I learned gun safety and marksmanship, and believe this aided in learning responsibility and concentration.  I would like us to offer the same advantage to all cadets here who have this interest...and we may find young men who have a gift for marksmanship they hadn't previously discovered.

As a young man I also attended basketball camp.  It helped me realize that basketball was not one of my gifts, but could still be fun.  It helped my friends become competitive high school players who continued to play in college.  Fork Union is hosting a basketball school this summer, and I encourage everyone to attend this wonderful experience...Coach Arritt will still have a hand in making sure we teach what needs to be taught.  A copy of the brochure may be found here.

One of my highlights this week was sitting down with four cadet leaders, all juniors in our Upper School, who attended the United States Air Force Academy National Character and Leadership Symposium.  I was interested in hearing what they'd learned, and how it was shaping their own leadership now that they were back at school.  The conversation became exciting as we talked about next year.  After all, with only 57 days remaining in the 2013-2014 Academic Year, it is time to start planning for next year.

It was clear from my interaction that next year will indeed be our "best ever" as we have many fine young men to fill student leadership position.  Next year we'll work overtime to improve the overall experience, while doing our best not to take away from the challenges that demand resiliency, tenacity, and grit...the kind of struggle necessary for learning, and for building character that is necessary to lead others in tomorrow's world.

I'll end this blog (sorry Mom...I know it was too long again) with another of Cadet Ro's prayers:

"Dear Living Father God.  In these last two months of school, help us to become men of respect, integrity, faith, character, and discipline; and let us leave our bad habits and build strong, good habits so that people may see the change that you have made in our lives through Fork Union Military Academy and everything in it.  Amen"

Go Character!  Go Leadership! Go FUMA!

Why Settle for Good When Great is Available?

Spring has officially arrived.  The bright sunshine and a warm breeze today couldn't have been scripted any better.  There was a bit of "spring fever" rumbling among the cadets at Chapel, as our Youth Minister encouraged them to read Proverbs.  Proverbs could be considered a manual for the young...teaching how to "get along" and succeed in life.

Early this week the Chaplain told me about a seminar he'd attended where the speaker used the expression "why settle for good when great is available?"  He knew I'd love the expression, and want to use the phrase in my he quickly and effectively integrated it into his Chapel message.  He reminded everyone that great is available to all of we should take advantage of every opportunity.

The message brought light to a fairly gloomy day...below and snow on the ground.  After Chapel I asked a cadet where he spent his Spring Break.  He told me he went someplace warm...and when I asked him where, he told me he'd spent the last week in Richmond, VA.  It confirmed my suspicion that more than a few cadets believe Fork Union is the only place with cold, clouds, and snow.

Spring Break brought quiet to campus.  Many took advantage of the time to rest and recharge for the dash to graduation.  The Middle School graduates in 62 days, and the Upper School in 64 days...with much to be done between now and then...including Alumni Weekend which is the first Saturday and Sunday in May.  While we are operating with only 75% of our normal Alumni Relations staff, plans are proceeding nicely, and a flyer should be in mailboxes very soon, if not already there.

Today, a posting from Facebook made its way around the faculty and staff which raised all our spirits.  It was posted to one of the alumni discussion groups, and everyone here drew some inspiration from the words of a member of the Class of 1989 [edited slightly for brevity]:

"I read a lot of (what I consider) silly posts that take the stand that because the barracks have air conditioning and gargantuan sized (20-inch) flat screens and that because cadets don't have to stand at the bottom of Hatcher to sneak in a 10-minute phone call that the school is now [not as good as it once was].

First of all - I don't see how "easy" it is to be a cadet there. For today's [youth], not being able to stroll around campus with their head tilted downward while they text/tweet/snapchat on a mobile device is far greater restrictive than [waxing decks]...

...what was FUMA about for you? I ask this because I've pondered the question a lot as I've read the posts lamenting the changes. For me - what I took from FUMA really had little to do about the toughness I acquired from sleeping in a cold room with LOUD pipes [in Snead or Memorial Hall]. For me it was about a distraction-[free] environment where I could focus on what matters: school.

I wish I had participated in far more activities than I did - but the Academy certainly made them available...

Accountability: We had the rules laid out clear as day and there were repercussions if we didn't abide by them;

Leadership: It was up to me to find a way to get my platoon on board with taking pride in who we were. It was up to me to look after the kids who were struggling. It was up to me to be fair, and set an example. I did OK in some areas, failed [in others, but] I still learned a lot about leadership that I carry to this day.

Values: You can't separate FUMA from Christianity. It was imbedded in the schools mission and remains the driving force of virtually all of the school's leadership.  Beyond Christianity...the value of hard work, not taking shortcuts, treating everyone with respect - these are timeless and useful.

Friendship: I feel a bond with you guys that for the most part I didn't develop with my friends from college - I think it was because we had to work together to achieve our goals.

Pride: In how I present myself and how I treat others. People draw conclusions - right or wrong - from your appearance. I keep that in mind...

Fairness: By that I mean - even on the most even playing field life isn't always fair.

...I still think [young men] who go through FUMA come away from the school with all of [those].

From what I can see about the school now, it's even better than when we were there. They reward academic achievement much more than they did when we were students (the ceremony for NHS inductees is an example), they teach leadership better (through a more rigorous OCS program - again one example)... a larger percentage of minorities and international students (the world is diverse...the school still has faculty that care a lot - and I promise you they teach at FUMA because they BELIEVE in FUMA as they could make much more money [someplace else]."

This post mirrored remarks from the Master Planning Kick-off Meeting yesterday, where past graduates (and current Trustees) told stories about people like Rosie Thomas, Jack Thompson, and Gus Lacy; one 1964 alumnus used the expression: "He showed me who I was."

The Phoneathon is in full swing this week, so I hope you've been kind (and generous) to the cadets who have been calling.  It isn't easy making "cold calls" like this, but the cadets have approached it with great enthusiasm.

The school is alive once again, as cadets readjust to the "Accountability - Leadership - Values - Friendship - Pride - Fairness" described above after nine days away...

As I was leaving the Coast Guard Academy, speaking to various groups around the campus, I said that I'd always wanted to have a "quote of my own." In a world where some say "everything has already been said," I took a chance by using this:

"Every action you take today, including the words you use, impacts the future.  You can't change the past, but you can shape the future through these actions and the words you choose." - RADM  J. Scott Burhoe.

As we educate, develop, and inspire the next generation of young men who will lead with character, the real joy comes from the impact we know we will have on the future.  We all pray that our actions and words impact each cadet in a positive way...a way that they will remember 25 years from now...50 years from now...and beyond...

We want them all to be great...even if good may be more easily available.

Go Spring!  Go FUMA!

Pictures to Straighten

Our master planners ended their first full day of exploring and inventorying the campus by spending some time getting clarification on expectation for the "kick-off" meeting scheduled for mid-March.  This presentation will include trustees, alumni, faculty, staff, and administrators.  We are excited about their work, and pleased to have hired such an accomplished architectural firm.  Quickly, the conversation turned away from buildings to culture and core values.

One of the architects asked me if he could be honest.  In a school where one of the core values is integrity, the answer is always yes.  He told me that he was surprised that at a military school so many pictures on our campus were crooked and that we needed to instill more uniformity in our signage and more discipline into the "first impression" we give visitors.  Of course he is argument here.

He went on to say that he'd never been to a campus where more people came up so freely (and friendly) to greet him and offer their assistance; and at lunch was impressed when cadets offered to take up their trays.  Now at what other school does that happen? 

If I could choose between a welcoming culture and straight pictures, I'd pick the former, but the good news is that at the end of this planning process, I think we'll end up having both.

Saturday's Alumni Speaker Day brought many alumni back to campus.  My impression is that this was a positive experience for everyone.  This was followed by an afternoon of Alumni Board meetings, and our annual Senior/PG dinner.  It was an uplifting night, and while it appeared the cadets enjoyed the comments by MG Robert Scales '62, and receiving their alumni pins, I really knew we'd met our goals when I received this email later that same evening:

"Dear Sir,

I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed the dinner tonight.  I've been looking forward to this dinner since my freshman year when I saw the seniors come back...all laughing and enjoying each other's company.  I saw the depth of brotherhood this place creates, and I knew I wanted to be part of that...the speaker's message was a great challenge to keep our character and realize all we've gained by being here...I know I've grown so much...I am better prepared for the world.  Thank you for the dinner tonight, I was honored to attend."

It was easy to sleep well knowing that young men like this inhabit Jacobson Hall...

On Sunday Betsy and I supported another FUMA Alumnus, Phil Wall '03, by attending the premier of his documentary UNBELIEVABLE IS BELIEVABLE HERE.  It covered the historic journey of the Virginia Commonwealth University men's basketball team through the 2011 NCAA basketball tournament where the Rams were catapulted to the national spotlight after becoming a controversial pick for the 2011 field of 68 teams.  Phil's father, Dick Wall, is a member of our Board of Trustees, and his mother Carol Wall is author of the book:  "Mister Owita's Guide to Gardening"  which is on the path to becoming a bestseller.  It is a terrific book, and another testament to this very talented family.  Good luck Phil and Carol.

Monday brought more frightfully cold weather and another round of snow and ice.  Okay, enough is enough...but as of today most of it has melted...and after a little ice tonight and tomorrow morning, we'll end the week with cold rain...but I know the sun is coming on Saturday...just in time for a very long run.

Many of you are aware that 3-4 times each year we bring in a guest speaker as part of our Christian Leadership Series.  This initiative by David Barrett, one of our trustees, brings successful Christian men in to serve as role models for our cadets.  This week we hosted Mr. Jason Walker, who is a Vice President for UPS.  He is a graduate of the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, and has an MBA from VCU.

He talked about uniqueness and encouraged the cadets to make the most of every opportunity.  He said: "God has made you special and wants to bless you so that you can bless the world through your unique gifts and talents."  He ended by quoting Psalm 139 verses 13-14:

"For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well."

Later that same day I congratulated Cadet Michael Head, a ninth grade cadet, for his performance in the State finals of debate last weekend.  He qualified for nationals (as a freshman!) and has the opportunity to compete at the national level in Chicago on May 24th and 25th.  We are very proud of his accomplishment, and I enjoyed my time talking with him about his future plans, including returning to Fork Union Military Academy next year.

Read more about our debate team and Cadet Head's performance on our website.

This week was filled with amazingly positive moments balanced with the routine of reading accreditation reports, paying bills, fielding concerns from parents, and recognizing the positive performance of staff, faculty, and cadets.  It was clear from every conversation that communications remains an issue, although it was also clear that communications seems to be a greater issue when a cadet is struggling. 

I continue to reflect on the challenge of finding the "magic [behavior] switch" in each young man; because each young man is different.

What allows most cadets to thrive in this environment filled with structure, discipline, love, and clear expectations, yet in that same environment a small number of cadets struggle to comply with the same rules and regulations? 

Fortunately there is too much good to worry about it long...besides, there are pictures to straighten.

I'll close with one of today's highlights, represented by a picture from Middle School Drama Class performance:

There were too many lessons in the play to share, but perhaps one of these young men is the "next" Vincent McDowell, a 2008 graduate now acting and singing in New York City, and featured in our latest YouTube Video.

My next blog will be in two weeks...I hope all the cadets enjoy Spring Break as much as I plan to...Go FUMA!

Who is Richard Bland?

Richard Bland was Thomas Jefferson's cousin, and a Virginia statesman.  He served in the House of Burgesses, and was a delegate to the Continental Congress in 1774 and 1775.  This week we signed a partnership with Richard Bland College of William & Mary to create an Associate's Degree program.  Rather than provide the full program description here, here are links to the press release and news coverage:

Visiting the college in Petersburg, VA was a real highlight.  We learned about how the school cares for each individual student, and just like FUMA, surrounds students with faculty who are always there to prepare and support them.  Signing the agreement was the easy part, implementing this program, and finding a cohort of students who meet the academic rigor of degree requirements will take real energy and commitment.

I've been impressed by the alumni response.  They have embraced this initiative, many wishing a program like this existed when they were cadets.  The marvels of technology make this possible today, and the demonstration by Main Street Virtual Learning was impressive.  This summer we will teach our first course in Summer School.  Our introductory course in Computer Modeling, Simulation, and Gaming (M&S) for high school students interested in cyber security, video game design, crime scene reconstruction, may have "standing room" only.

This is all very exciting...ground breaking...and will help secure our bright future.

This initiative followed our National Honor Society induction ceremony.  Thirty-eight cadets, twenty-three seniors and fifteen juniors met the academic and behavioral criteria for membership, and took the NHS oath, pledging to "uphold the high purposes of the National Honor Society...and maintain and encourage high standards of scholarship, service, leadership, and character."

This induction class is the largest in recent memory; a testament to the high quality students applying to and being accepted by the Academy.  For a pictures of this fine group of young men who will lead with character, please visit our photo gallery.

Our development staff is preparing for Saturday's Alumni Speaker Day.  I'm told more alumni are returning to speak (more than 20 so far) than have attended in past years.  Since this is a "Saturday Class Day" (a cadet favorite), each class will have a guest speaker.  This will be followed by Alumni Board meetings, and our Annual Senior/PG Dinner.

Our guest speaker will be Major General Robert H. Scales, Jr. He is a Fork Union Military Academy alumnus, and graduated from West Point in 1966.  He earned the Silver Star for actions in Vietnam in 1969.  He retired from the Army in 2000, and is one of America's best-known and most respected authorities on land warfare. 

We are looking forward to hearing his message, and this should be a terrific evening in which we celebrate the "manners of our profession."

LTC Carl Muench gave the chapel message this morning, building on the message delivered by COL Chris Nothnagle the week before.  His message was on the importance of prayer, and he provided an important lesson on how to approach prayer, based on rich lessons from scripture.  He quoted one of my favorite passages...which has sustained me through many graduations, Congressional testimony, and a variety of challenging situations:

"Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!  Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.  Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."  Philippians 4:4-7

I was away for a few days attending the Association of Military Colleges and Schools in the United States (AMCSUS) annual conference in Northern Virginia.  It was an informative conference that included over 60 presidents, superintendents, and heads of school, including all the Senior Military Colleges, Military Junior Colleges, and several military prep schools. 

We gathered to learn more about school safety; learned from a Medal of Honor winner how the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation can help teach lessons on character; how boys learn differently than girls; listened to an inspiring keynote by Brigadier General Dana Born, the former Dean of Academics at the United States Air Force Academy on leadership in the 21st Century; and a variety of other events that allowed us to share "best practices" with each other.

This trip allowed me to spend an afternoon and morning with my children and grandchildren, celebrating James Scott's third birthday.  It is amazing to see how fast children learn, and fun to watch Emily Grace (his sister) and John Thomas (his cousin) keep their eyes on our every movement...learning from the actions of other children, adults, and parents. 

Being in these multi-generational situations reminds me of life's complexity, and the importance of family...and unconditional love.  It was also a reminder of what is most important in our lives.

Spring Break begins next Friday...a day (and a week) many are anticipating.  This has been a very challenging winter, and I admire the resilience and "grit" of our Corps of Cadets.  They deserve our admiration and respect for the way they've "weathered" the many storms of these Dark Ages.  There are now 85 days until the Upper School graduation and 83 days to our Middle School graduation.  Of course there is much left to do between now and then...

I'll end with a prayer by Cadet Ro:

"Dear Loving Father God, we come here today to thank you for all the blessings you have given us.  Thank you for the school you have provided, and thank you for all the opportunity you have opened for us in this school.  Lord we ask that you continuously bless us and everything we do and to really open our eyes to see your greater plan.  Amen."

Go Alumni Speaker Day!  Come on Spring Break!  Go FUMA!

I Remember You

The hardest part of any activity, including this weekly blog, is always getting started.  Tonight, I hope the music will help.  For those who subscribe to iTunes podcasts, I'm listening to Music to Pray By.  Ron Johns plays the piano, and the music is suitable for running, prayer, easy listening, and I hope blogging. 

Cadet Blake Chiovaro is presented a "command coin" by RADM Burhoe.Last week ended on a positive note.  I presented awards to Middle School cadets on the President's List, which is a combination of Honor Roll and Excellent Conduct, and presented my "command coin" to the Cadet of the Month, and also to the winner of our Spelling Bee (picture at right).  Cadet Blake Chiovaro, our local winner, will represent Fork Union Military Academy at the Regional Spelling Bee in Charlottesville. 

Blake is the third Chiovaro son to attend FUMA.  His brother Brad is a senior, and Ben is in the ninth grade.  In fact Ben was recently a student in our new ninth grade etiquette class.  This class is taught to all freshmen to help them begin developing good habits early.  Ms. Lynn Armstrong, Ms. Bev Hanlin, and Ms. Betsy Burhoe taught the first two sessions.  In Betsy's words, "you can never be too polite."

Saturday brought three young men and their families to the campus for our Board of Trustees Scholarship.  They were provided tours by other 9th grade cadets, and each was interviewed by a team of faculty, staff, and administrators.  I had the opportunity to meet with these three finalists and their families over a formal lunch in our Trustee Boardroom.

We notified the winner of this competitive full scholarship earlier today.  He is indeed "a young man who possesses exceptional academic, extracurricular, and citizenship credentials."  This will be our second year offering this scholarship, and was even more competitive.  There can only be one person selected, but our prayer is that many of those who applied will attend, and we plan to do everything possible to draw many into our Corps of Cadets.

All three, one from as far away as Los Angeles, one from Pennsylvania, and one from Alexandria, VA, are exceptional young men...bright students, participants in organized athletics, and admired by peers and teachers.  Two were also accomplished musicians, and one has already founded two non-profit organizations to support those who are in need.

It was a day that reminded me that the future of America is bright, and Fork Union's future will be brighter if all three are able to attend.

This week brought many conversations, emails, and even visits by parents, alumni, and friends.  Regardless of how the discussions started, they always ended with improved communications.  In some cases it was as simple as updating an email address, looking in the "spam" or "junk mail" folder, or clearing up the reason behind a policy or procedure.  One thing was never in doubt, and integral to every conversation, and that was the extent to which the faculty, staff, and administrators here support, care, and love our students.

We will continue to improve the methods, sources, and frequency of our communications, but I'd also ask parents to please communicate directly with us about anything affecting or impacting their sons' lives outside FUMA.  All these matter, and impact his outlook and behavior here. 

We are always interested in knowing more about the "whole person," and we recognize that the "cadet-persona" we see is only part of each young man.  Sometimes the grey, black, green, blue, or red they wear masks the complexity of what is going on inside...and what goes on inside each cadet is impacted by their lives outside and inside Fork Union Military Academy.  Please continue communicating early, often, and in particular with the tactical officers, teachers, and coaches.

The highlight of my week was a presentation to our State Championship Swim and Dive Team.  Six swimmers, two divers, two coaches, and two cadet managers drove up early to Northern Virginia, just ahead of a February blizzard, and took on a talented field of Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association teams.  This is our third state championship in four years, and a tribute to swimmers of character (and of course blazing speed), and coaches who showered them with high expectations and outstanding preparation. Congratulations!

In anticipatory celebration of our Alumni Speaker Day planned for Saturday, March 1st, here is a [slightly edited] email entitled "Thank You from a Former Cadet" which was sent to a member of our Commandant of Cadets staff:

"I was a cadet [from 1993-1995]. You may not remember me, but trust me, I remember you.

I am a high school English teacher...[now reflecting] on how fortunate I have been in life. I often look back on my time at Fork Union, and I do so with great admiration. I [didn't realize at the time], but FUMA really defined the man I am today. Had it not been for the wonderful opportunity to be a cadet there, who knows who I would have become? I was never a trouble-maker, but I was never difference-maker either.

I think that is the best way to sum up what FUMA did for me. It made me forever concerned with making a difference. It is because of you and the other teachers and officers at FUMA that I chose to become a teacher.

...I think every day about how much my students would benefit from an atmosphere like Fork Union...[you] could do so much for them. I know; I saw it happen with many of my fellow cadets...I will never be able to do what you all did for me. I'm not sure I can teach them to live their lives with discipline and courage. I'm not sure I can teach them to love their brother and to celebrate diversity. This is so unfortunate, for again, I know first-hand how these lessons can define the way a man lives his life.

I just wanted to touch base to tell you how much my experience at FUMA meant to me...I have nothing but fond memories of life there, and the lessons you all taught me have been paid forward to my family...What you all do for the young men that are privileged enough to attend FUMA is invaluable."

Fork Union: Character is key. Leadership legendary. Body fit. Mind sharp. The Spirit lives.


Storm after Storm, but Blue Sky is Coming

I was invited to the Middle School Chapel Service this afternoon, and told them that today was going to be "every Middle Schooler's dream," a day when they would get two chapel messages, one from me, and one from Ms. Payne.  The faculty chuckled...the cadets did not.  My message was about looking after each other, whether asked or not, and my perspective on storms.

You see, this winter has brought many storms to Fork Union Military Academy...some literally, like the 10 inches of snow last night and some figurative storms.

My message was that we need to always prepare for storms and respond to them, but we must always realize that sun and warmth will follow.  We can live our lives waiting in anticipation of the storms, or weather the storm knowing the blue sky will be here soon.

Later in the afternoon as I was walking back to my office, a staff member rolled down his window to tell me that an ice storm was on its way, so we cancelled basketball practice, and that he was heading home.  One of the middle school cadets overheard the conversation, and after the car drove off, came up to me and said: "Admiral, you were right, he must be one that looks for the storms."  I smiled. It is always refreshing to know that cadets are listening.

To help me through the storms, my mother-in-law forwarded Psalm 121.  Through her, God provided the exact words I needed to get through a stormy week.

Last weekend we hosted an orienteering meet at FUMA.  It was open to beginners, intermediates, and advanced competitors, and served as a fundraiser for our Orienteering Team.  I walked the beginner's course, but had the advantage of "local knowledge."  It was still challenging, and flashbacks of my Boy Scout days came back quickly.  It was the most fun I'd had in quite some time...

Our Orienteering Team brings the school national recognition.  Please visit the team's Facebook page to learn more.  This team prepares young men for many adventures, and I'm told that at least one past team member took their skills to the Marine Corps and the knowledge made Officer Basic School just a little easier.

Our Indoor Track Team competed in the State Tournament, and were edged out as repeating State Champions by Woodberry Forest School.  Congratulations WFS, but know that we are simply slipping back into your wake to draft a bit until we pass again.  We are proud of our coaches and the team for a second place finish, and look forward to the Prep League Championship Meet and the upcoming outdoor track season.

Our Debate Team continues to gain momentum, placing 3rd, 4th, and 5th in Extemporaneous Speaking, and qualifying for the State Finals in Declamation and Oral Interpretation...and our new Robotics Team made an outstanding showing at their First Robotics Event.  Please see the Robotics Team pictures posted in our galleries.

I also spent some time over the weekend reviewing 54 pages of "student survey" comments our cadets filled out for our upcoming VAIS Decennial Accreditation.  I was impressed by the cadet comments about our mission and philosophy.  Two of my favorites were:

"Cadets build character and leadership"'s just so true.  I came here as a middle school failure, now I am one of the highest ranked cadets among the Corps.  It's just an amazing experience, and it's totally worth it."

"What I value most about Fork Union's mission and philosophy is that Fork Union aims to provide an environment best suited for the growth of the young leaders of the world."

The area for improvement mentioned most was about communications, perhaps summed up best in this comment:

"I believe that more communication between the officers to the NCO's to the privates will improve knowledge of things that are going on in the school, not just activities that may be available but also the plan for that day or week."

It was clear that we need to send more information to cadets about the plans for the week, and any changes to the normal routine that may affect them.  We are also working to have our twice-a-day announcements go out electronically.  These surveys highlight the value of the accreditation process, and this great opportunity for self-reflection and continual improvement.

Today, while "stormy," had some light moments: Organized and supervised snowball fights and snowplay; several conversations with cadets since many of our staff were unable to make it in because of the treacherous road conditions...including one where, after I asked a question, the cadet asked if I wanted to hear the "truth" or a typical FUMA cadet which I told him I would like to hear both, so that I could compare the two.

We declared today "100th Day," which means we now have less than 100 days to graduation.  2LT Brian Zitterkopf, USMC, a Naval Academy graduate and FUMA 2008 Salutatorian, will deliver the Commencement Address.

Today also brought 3 new "serving line attendants." The weather delayed some of our Dining Facility workers, so our Chief Financial Officer, Sharon Higginbotham, my Secretary, Carol Childress, and our Accounts Payable Manager, Ellen Melton, volunteered to serve lunch during Mess II.  There is some debate as to whether they served too much food, or too little...but one thing is for certain, they served it with enthusiasm and love.

I will close with a quote from our featured faculty member, Ms. Jennifer Payne, who answered the question:

What advice can you offer to current cadets to help them understand the importance of a good education, as well as how FUMA can benefit their future success?

"Nelson Mandela once said that "Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world." FUMA cadets are provided a great education and given the weapons they need to succeed.  It is up to the cadets to use these weapons and reach their full potential."


Building Character for a Lifetime

As the cadets were leaving for Winter Leave, I was in Richmond with one of our Trustees, David Barrett, and a development professional, Tim Redden.  We met to plan the first steps toward transforming Fork Union Military Academy.  It is refreshing that this renewal will take us to the original intention of our founder and first governing board, which was educate, develop, and inspire as many young men as possible, whether they could afford it or not.

From there, I met with our Board Chairman, Bill Vakos, with Glave & Holmes, the firm we've hired to create a campus master plan that will help us realize this future.  We provided maps, blueprints, surveys, and a guiding framework.  This included words like: safety and security; pedestrian traffic priority; adequate parking; student pick-up; traditions; Fraley Circle formations; Athens vs. Sparta; first impressions; timelessness; "classroom of the future;" sanctuary; cadet support; nurturing faculty; physical fitness; and more.

I ended the afternoon by learning more about timber management from a good friend of the school, to help us become better stewards of the 1300 acres we own here in Fluvanna County.  Quite a day; one that helps us maintain our forward momentum.

This week brought many letters and emails from alumni and parents.  One was from a Class of 1941 graduate.  I'd written a note asking him to share a few stories about his experiences at FUMA, and he took me up on the offer:

"It was a long way from home, the winter was unusually cold, but with nice roommates and a very caring faculty I quickly adjusted to military school life and did well academically.  I can remember how impressive and exciting life was, so it is that I give the school credit for what a valuable impact it made on me.  With small class sizes, I learned to study and to use my teachers to help me.  Thus I recall MAJ Snead in math, CPT Springer in Spanish, and CPT Stoudimire in History.  A spiritual message is readily acceptable at that age and therefore President Wicker's morning chapel homilies stuck with me for a lifetime.  His strong, deep voice and handsome, wavy, white hair make me know I was getting the message straight from God.

Other remembrances...the beauty of spring in Virginia, and the smell of jasmine, and wild onions; dress parades on Sundays and visitors around the parade field; going downtown Fork Union to get a haircut---the woman barber charged 25 cents; my roommate had asthma and insisted the window remain open at night so he could breathe easier.   I nearly froze to death with snow on my bed some nights.  So with an eye hook and string to my bunk, I would pull the window closed when he was asleep; the awards day at the end of school when I won the speaking award and made the Honor Roll.  I became a good student at Fork Union.

Thus my appreciation for this school.  From there it was on to the University of North Carolina.  Then to the US Navy and WWII where my military training paid off.  The good life followed even to the present at age 90 years."

Now I can't promise everyone who attends Fork Union a long life, but I can guarantee anyone who attends the opportunity to become a good student, march in dress parades, have a roommate, and learn to creatively adapt to situations with reverence and grace.

Early this week we conducted an "armed intruder" drill at the end of the class day.  It was an all-campus exercise to test alarms, communication systems, and to train the reaction of faculty, staff, and students.  I observed the drill in the Wicker Science classroom building, and was impressed by the quick and appropriate response throughout the drill.  Next term we will conduct a drill simulating extreme weather events (like tornadoes and earthquakes).

While some might think the monthly faculty meeting would have been one of my highlights this week, one was news that Cadet Captain Matt Carmine, our Battalion Adjutant, received an appointment to the Coast Guard Academy Scholars Program.  This means he has the opportunity to attend one year of college at Coast Guard expense, followed by four years at the United States Coast Guard Academy as a member of the Class of 2019.  I met with him to give him several great reasons to say yes.

The second highlight was earlier today when I met with our librarian to begin planning the "library of the future."  We have a terrific library.  It is one of the buildings that caused me to take this job, but...

Libraries are changing, and we need to keep pace with that change.  We have a great library, but not enough people visit, perhaps an "unintended consequence" of the one-to-one laptop initiative.  We will assemble a team to create a "learning commons."  This mixed use space will be used for research, study, collaboration...and today I learned a new word: Makerspace.

I only scratched this week's surface, failing to include our "National Signing Day" event where 30+ student-athletes committed to attend top colleges like Virginia Tech, UVA, USC, Clemson, Marshall, and Temple...the tenacious athletic events...the inspiring chapel messages...the Battle of the Brains YouTube video...but will close with a quote sent to me by one of our parents.  She shared it with her son to help get him from Winter Break to the end of the school year.

"You are in charge of your feelings, beliefs, and actions. And you teach others how to behave toward you. While you cannot change other people, you can influence them through your own behaviors and actions. By being a living role model of what you want to receive from others, you create more of what you want in your life." --- Eric Allenbaugh

Go Character! Go FUMA!

Circle of Friendship

The cold and snow are as persistent as our cadets are resilient.  I spent the weekend at a Heads of Schools Conference in Charlottesville, hosted by the Virginia Association of Independent Schools (VAIS).  The conference was entitled "Lessons in Leadership."  It provided an opportunity to engage with peers, listen to experts in the areas of STEM education, learn balanced approaches to student alcohol and drug use, and hear more about the bright future of independent schools.

In a recent study of students from mid-low income families, those who attended independent schools were more likely than their peers to attend college, and more importantly were more likely to finish college.  It is clear that students feel far more "engaged" in independent boarding schools, and appreciate that teachers know them well. 

Another advantage, particularly in college preparatory, Christian, military schools, is the emphasis on values and character.  This was evident in our chapel service on Tuesday, when Chaplain Benson led with a quote from Dan Reeves:

"You can tell the character of a person by how he treats those who can do nothing for him. If you do something for somebody and they can't do anything for you, that says a lot about you as a person."

He then related this quote to the Parable of the Samaritan and the importance of living by our core values of respect, integrity, faith, character, and discipline.  Reinforcing these important values will help cadets build habits that last a lifetime. 

With so many schools taking so many snow days, our cadets feel as though they may be "missing something" by not being at many of their friends are off from school...not realizing that other schools might go longer into the summer, or risk losing their Spring Breaks.  Most cadets are looking forward to a long weekend as we enjoy our Winter Break, allowing a well-deserved three day weekend, which just happens to be over Super Bowl weekend this year.

I drove through the snow on Wednesday to attend a Board of Directors Meeting of the Virginia Council for Private Education.  We discussed pending educational legislation, a number of issues related to private education throughout the Commonwealth, and internal organizational issues.  I am fortunate to represent the Association of Military Colleges and Schools (in Virginia) on this Board.  This council "accredits the accreditors" and advocates for the value of private education.

Today we held a very special event, a "Presentation of Class Rings" ceremony in the Chapel.  We have many pictures available here.  Ms. Bev Hanlin, our Registrar, put the ceremony together, and was the key to its flawless execution and its significance.  She is an example of the faculty, staff, and administrators who positively impact the lives of students at independent schools throughout Virginia.

I will close with my comments from this ring ceremony, shortening my blog this week, because my mother told me that last week it was too long.

"This event is all about the Fork Union Military Academy Class rings and the young men who are receiving them today.

Last year we had a ceremony for the Class of 2014 as they received their rings and, we wanted to do it again this year for the Class of 2015.

Rings symbolize many things.  On my left hand I wear a wedding ring that symbolizes my love, marriage, and commitment to my wife and family.

On my right hand I am wearing a Coast Guard Academy ring given to me by the Class of 2011.  I was their only Superintendent and retired when they graduated...this ring symbolizes the four years we had together, our mutual respect, and the love we had in common for the school and the Coast Guard.  A maroon stone in the ring symbolized my alma mater, Virginia Tech.

I also have two class rings up here, from the FUMA classes of 1912 and 1962.

The class rings presented today are circles of friendship and brotherhood.

These rings symbolize achievement, years of studying, and hard work.

These rings identify the wearer as a Fork Union Man...a man who sacrifices a little fun today for a brighter future.  A man of respect, integrity, faith, character, and discipline.

Unlike ordinary high school rings, these rings will be cherished for a lifetime because they are hard-earned.  These rings unify these young men as classmates and connect them to this great school.  It is my pleasure to present them today."

Go Winter Leave!  Go FUMA!