The President's Blog

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


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 weeks...so 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!

My Dreams

This is my last blog of the school year.  I will write another shortly after graduation, and perhaps update everyone in the middle of the summer.  With only 8 days until the Upper School commencement and 6 days to the Middle School graduation, time is becoming even more precious, and the choices difficult.

To write this blog, as well as two letters of recommendations later tonight, I'll have to miss the Annual Faculty/Senior Basketball game.  Just for the record, it's not because no one asked me to play...that I understand, but as everyone reading this knows, life is full of choices, and we often don't know if we've made the right one until long after the consequences are felt.

Fork Union Military Academy, for cadets and staff alike, is about making choices...and from many cadet conversations I've had this week, cadets make better choices when they listen, understand, and internalize the lessons we teach...but that learning can't be forced...it happens in cadet time, not ours. 

Chaplain Benson preached today that our real "Cadet Regulations" and "Faculty Handbook" is the Bible.  If we all used scripture as our strategic plan and guiding document, things would run smoothly.  Just saying...

A highlight for me this week was spending time with COL Bill Hitchcock's International Relations class.  I learned what they were studying, but also told them I could answer any questions they had, as long as they didn't relate to the subject matter of the class, because my area of expertise was independent private education and FUMA...the pace of those two things consume all my time during the school year.

I enjoyed the many questions, and the cadets were exceedingly polite and respectful in the way they listened and built on the answers.  One question related to what I would want to be "remembered for" after my tenure.  I told them that my true "passion" was unfettered access to quality education.  I believe that everyone should have access to a quality education regardless of their ability to pay. 

My dream is to have a school that educates, develops, and inspires young men in a college preparatory, Christian, military environment.  We'll help them build character, learn leadership, become independent, confident, responsible, and disciplined.  These young men will weave together a strong body, alert mind, and vibrant spirit.  Being able to afford tuition, room, board, and uniforms will be a secondary consideration for the best and most qualified students.

We'll accomplish this only by building our endowment, particularly in the area of access scholarships.  This will revive Dr. Hatcher's founding spirit and intention.  He was interested in reaching as many young people as possible...and he filled the school...worrying about how to pay for it later. 

Fork Union needs to influence more young men.  There is no doubt in anyone's mind that the world would be a better place if more of its inhabitants were FUMA graduates.

LTC (select) Houston Eldridge was announced this week as our full-time Director of Character and Leadership.  He is our Social Studies Department Head, and well-known for the Leadership Course he teaches each summer.  It is one of our most popular Summer School classes. 

Houston will work directly for me next year as we fully implement the first of our five strategic goals. Clicke here to view the Strategic Plan.  His challenge is to "Integrate Character and Leadership Development throughout the Academy," and he will facilitate this by guiding our cadet leaders as they lead and organize the Corps of Cadets through the daily routine.

I've also tasked him with creating a publishable guidebook that will articulate the FUMA leadership model, and become a "best practice" for military secondary schools, and asked him to create an "outward bound" type program to help us redirect and motivate cadets who may be struggling with how and why to comply with the rules and regulations in our strict, structured, military environment.

All of this is a tall order, but we have great confidence in him, and those who will support him in this effort. 

Yesterday evening we held an Eagle Scout Court of Honor for Jasher Grunau.  He graduated last year, and just completed his first year as an engineering major at Virginia Tech (Go Hokies!).  It was a terrific event, and brought back great memories of my own Court of Honor in April of 1969.  Listening to the Scout Law, Oath, Motto, and remarks by LTC Don Moore reminded me of the significance of this milestone.  LTC Moore's final story was about a 1942 Fork Union graduate. 

Now in his late 80's, this alumnus talks about God, his family, the Army, FUMA, and becoming an Eagle Scout.  It was a heartwarming story of his meaningful, intentional life (still being) well lived, yet two of the most significant memories in his life occurred over 7 decades ago...which was a reminder to the cadets listening to make the most of their adolescent years...

Yesterday a cadet approached me to ask if I would support an initiative to assist victims of the South Korea ferry capsizing.  Many school children were impacted during this ferry mishap, and some of our South Korean students are selling wristbands inscribed with "One small movement leads to big miracles."  The proceeds from selling these $2.00 bands will be sent directly to the hospitals to support the victims and their families.

The last "event" in my day was a cadet initiative by our newly formed Global Citizens Club.  They planted a tree to honor our four faculty retirees, Mrs. Hanlin, COL Hardy, COL Ransone, and Mrs. Armstrong.  The tree also honors the Class of 2014.  Cadet Anand Sodkhuu, the Club President, hopes this annual "tree planting" will become a tradition...which will certainly help us beautify the entrance at Pettit-Foster Lane.

I'll close this blog with a portion of Ms. Katherine Giszack's remarks from today's ceremony.  She is the club's faculty advisor:

"Trees are highly symbolic, and they are seen throughout the art and literature of many cultures.  In fact, the Bible begins in Genesis with a story of two trees - the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and the tree of life.  Unfortunately, humankind did not choose life in that case, but when we fast-forward to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, we see another tree, as the cross turned death into life.  And in the end, Revelation gives us a picture of heaven, where we again see the tree of life.  Revelations 22:2 describes the tree of life, "whose leaves are for the healing of the nations."

I invited the Class of 2014 to visit the tree often, and certainly in 2064 for their 50th reunion...when, who knows, one of them might be the President of Fork Union Military Academy.

Go Dreams!  Go Trees!  Go FUMA!

Gate of the Year

Last week we hosted the Board of Trustees on Thursday and Friday, and our returning alumni on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.  It was a terrific "homecoming" for our 50 year class, the Class of 1964.  After dinner a member of the class was reciting a poem, and when I asked him what it was, he said it was on a plaque outside Wicker Chapel.  It says:

"And I said to the man who stood at the Gate of the Year: 'Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.'  And he replied: 'Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God.  That shall be to you better than light and safer than the known way."

I was fascinated that he and others in the class had memorized the poem, and could still recite it. On Sunday we went over to look at the poem together, and relive a few more memories.  To learn more about the significance of the passage, please visit: http://ww2today.com/.

After the weekend festivities, I received a note from another member of the class, and forwarded it along to the cadets, faculty, and staff, who worked so hard to put the weekend together:

"My wife & I just arrived home from our reunion, and though it has been a long day, I couldn't wait to send you a brief note to reiterate how impressed we both were with what you and your staff are accomplishing at FUMA.  The campus and grounds look great, and all of the festivities were very well done. 

Most of all, however, we were impressed with the quality of several young men we happened to speak to randomly on Saturday and today — every one of them was polite, engaging, and seemed genuinely happy to be there.

It is reassuring and gratifying to know that the quality of the experience these cadets are receiving is every bit as good as the experience I had in my four years at FUMA.

The food Saturday evening and Sunday was OUTSTANDING!  Please commend the food service personnel. 

Thank you again... not only for the wonderful weekend, but for what [everyone does] there every day."

It was such a pleasure to host our alumni on campus and share memories with them, but our alumni do much more than offer their fellowship. Our alumni are the unsung heroes of the Academy in providing financial support for our ongoing growth. A big thank you is due to all of our sponsors for this weekend, including alumni Ken Koeller and Bill Yancey who helped underwrite the costs of our golf tournament, so all monies raised could go to the benefit of our cadets.

Of course great weekends come to an end, and there are new challenges.  I spent this afternoon with the Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors, talking about water and water rates.  Our rates may soon increase significantly, and this is an acceptable path as long as the infrastructure improves and accessibility to water continues.  These meetings are reminders of the beauty (and challenges) that come from being located in such a rural environment.

I couldn't resist giving a few facts that have nothing to do with water, including letting everyone in the room know that our outdoor track team ran the Sprint Medley on Friday, setting a meet record, school record, and ran the fastest time in Virginia (which is also the 4th fastest time in the United States)...and announced that reenrollment, visits, and applications are higher this year [which should help us pay the water bill].

Today was a first in Fork Union Military Academy history, in that we encouraged our seniors to wear a T-shirt signifying their college of choice.  Most cadets have received their acceptance letters and made their decisions, and it was fun to see the different colors, and a few more smiles.

We also met with the seniors after Chapel on Tuesday to go over plans for graduation, and to show them what their diplomas will look like.  Our Middle School will graduate in two weeks, and our Upper School will graduate the following Saturday.  My vacation plans are made, but admittedly they won't get much thought or anticipation until May 25th.  There just isn't enough time to think about it...

This prayer by Cadet Ro summed up many of our feelings:

"Lord Almighty God.  We want to take the time to thank you for everything you helped us get through, and all the blessings you have given us.  Lord, from day one we asked that you help us become men of respect, integrity, faith, character, and discipline...and you never stopped teaching us and guiding us on that path.  So, again Lord, we want to thank you for everything you have done.  Amen."

While it seems like the Military Ball was quite some time ago, it was just two weekends ago, and there are pictures posted on our website.  It was a terrific evening, the night after hosting an Open House where more than 40 families came to visit the campus, receiving tours by cadets, and personal interviews.  The Ball was well attended (over 150) and the Arch of Sabers was flawless.  We all enjoyed seeing the seniors announced in a wonderfully decorated Thomas Gym.  If you see cadets in the pictures with funny hats and glasses, don't despair, there was a photo booth, and some eccentric props were available.

That same weekend our FUMA Band won first place in the Charlottesville Dogwood Festival Parade, where they marched with the Middle School Dillard Guard.

On a personal note, I was nominated and will serve as Board Chairman for the Virginia Council for Private Education (VCPE) Board of Directors.  VCPE essentially "accredits the accreditors" for private schools in Virginia, including Fork Union Military Academy's accreditation organization, the Virginia Association of Independent Schools (VAIS).  While this may take me away from the school on occasion, it will keep me tuned in to all issues impacting private education, not only in Virginia, but nationwide.  Wish me luck.

These thousand words didn't do these last two weeks justice...so I'll close with a few pictures from the last few weeks to fill in the last ten words.

Go FUMA!

 

Called to Lead

At a recent staff meeting, we were discussing our ever-improving retention and reenrollment numbers...they are at record highs this year...the highest since we've been keeping records.  This is good news, particularly considering that today's youth are much more involved in the school selection process, unlike 20-30 years ago when parents decided [without input] what was best for their children. 

While this puts more pressure on all schools, and particularly schools like ours where the rewards don't appear so immediate, much research suggests that the ability to defer immediate gratification leads to a more successful future.  I also believe young people are brighter today than ever, more discerning, and less likely to accept the "advertisement" and more interested in "the reality."

Knowing this, all schools must include students (in our case cadets) in decision processes.  I'm not recommending we do everything they suggest, but am suggesting that the more they understand "why," the more willingly they will adapt to this environment.

On Friday before Easter Break we met with the 8th graders, providing a glimpse at life in Upper School, and encouraging them to return for the 9th grade.  It preceded a very quiet weekend, as only about 40 cadets remained on campus...but those few were treated to the First Annual Fraley Circle Easter Egg Hunt [the White House has nothing on us].

This Sunday is our first formal review of the season.  I watched parade practice on Wednesday afternoon at 1430 (2:30 PM).  This is probably the same day and time cadets have been practicing for decades...and I was impressed by the effort.  Clearly the practice is paying off.  Military drill teaches teamwork, leadership, and logistics.  Besides, everybody loves a parade [unless of course you are marching in it].

This review will honor four senior faculty members who are retiring at the end of this year, Ms. Bev Hanlin, COL Fred Hardy, COL John Ransone, and Ms. Lynn Armstrong.  We will miss all four, and of course Fork Union Military Academy will not be the same without them.  We will also recognize and honor them next weekend.

This Saturday is our Military Ball.  So many cadets are attending this year that we will hold it in Thomas Gym (like the old days).  I spoke with a young man today whose girlfriend is flying in from Illinois to attend the dance.  Betsy and I will be there, and it will be fun to put on Coast Guard "Dinner Dress Blue" again.

Today marks 30 days to the Upper School graduation.  Ms. Bev Hanlin and I went over the award ceremonies and commencement details.  Soon we will meet with the graduating seniors, so that they know the details to provide their families.  If you have any questions about activities, please visit our website, and if you have any questions about graduation, please call the Commandant of Cadets or the Registrar.

We are making preparations for the Board of Trustee meetings, and our annual Alumni Weekend.  This is 4 full days of action-packed excitement...an "all hands" activity...we are particularly looking forward to hosting the Class of 1964 for their 50th reunion.  Where did the time go? 

This week General John T. Chain, Jr. '52 visited the campus.  I enjoyed hearing stories of his cadet days from 1948-1952.  He picked a beautiful day to visit, and marveled at the new barracks, Jacobson Hall, and seeing many campus improvements for the first time (library expansion, new swimming pool, social center).  I had fun contrasting and comparing "yesterday" to today, and was pleased to hear him embrace the many changes with appreciation and vigor.

Like nearly everyone who served so successfully for decades in the Armed Forces of the United States, he's learned to adapt and embrace change.  As we toured the campus and interacted with faculty, staff, and cadets...all who welcomed him home...my message was that we should treat every cadet as though they may one day become a four star general...

I will close with the remarks I made to the 8th graders, as I explained the value of military high schools and why it is important for those "called to lead" to attend Fork Union Military Academy:

"As I examine the landscape of American culture, a crisis is looming.  It is a crisis of education, a crisis of culture, a crisis of faith.  There must be people, united by a common purpose, who prepare young people to do the hard work of leading others.  President Roosevelt describes this as being "the man who is actually in the arena." 

There must be schools like this that give young people what they need, which doesn't always match what they want.  This is the only way we will maintain this nation's freedom and our system of democracy.  There must be young men, willing to sacrifice a little fun today, for a brighter future in which they are prepared to lead others with character.

Military academies, particularly those like ours that prepare young people for college; grounded by strong faith in God and Christian values; and with an emphasis on physical fitness, are an answer to solving this crisis that results from self-gratification and a quest to collect worldly possessions rather than serving the common good.

Throughout time there has always been a core group of young men who were destined to lead others...perhaps even called to lead.  For those, there must be a place, free of distractions and excesses where they can focus on timeless values, academic preparation, and physical stamina; a place where they learn to communicate and build trust; a place that builds responsibility with well supervised risk-taking.

Earlier this week, Olympic gold medal swimmer Josh Davis, spoke and defined freedom as the ability to do the right thing, wherever you are, regardless of what anyone around you is doing.

While it may sound incongruous, military schools teach freedom, even when it appears to the casual observer as though the students are little less free. 

Those who are called to lead others, or have a passion for leading others (and are willing to learn), should consider college-preparatory (100% of our students are accepted to college), Christian (faith-based), military schools.  Life at Fork Union is not easy, in fact the experience is a real challenge, but as can be seen in the success of our graduates, is clearly worth it. 

On the other hand, if you are not called to lead, but are destined to follow, any school may do."

Go Leadership! Go FUMA!

Freedom

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 freedom...free from the many worldly influences that block us from reaching our full potential.  More information about Josh Davis can be found at http://www.joshdavis.com/.

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. 

Go FUMA!

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 line...so 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 www.biblegateway.com.  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."

Go FUMA!

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 cadets...so 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 blog...so he quickly and effectively integrated it into his Chapel message.  He reminded everyone that great is available to all of us...so we should take advantage of every opportunity.

The message brought light to a fairly gloomy day...below freezing...ice 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 right...no 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 us...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!