The President's Blog

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

Every Interaction Matters

When you think about events or words that may have influenced your entire life, what do you remember?  For me it is part of a conversation or two...a recollection of a few unplanned interactions that taught me lessons for a lifetime.

At Fork Union Military Academy we recognize that every interaction with cadets is an opportunity to have that lasting impact.  Each encounter must be intentional and thoughtful...and everyone should consider that their next conversation with a cadet may be the one they always remember.

These last two weeks have brought many such stories to light.  Coach Sullivan was traveling and met someone who said "I've heard your name often."  He was reunited with a former FUMA football player whose life he ways he didn't even realize at the time.

For my entire Coast Guard career, I told a story about an Officer Candidate School instructor who "squared me away."  After having me stand at attention, he told me to find military bearing by morning (it was already after dark).  If not, I would be a civilian again.  After asking my classmates where I might find "military bearing," I learned quickly that it was all about attitude and being totally committed to the program.

Thirty years after this life-changing event, I finally got the courage to visit this former instructor and thank him, only to find out that he didn't even remember the conversation.  For him it was just one of many that day, yet the impact it had on me was profound.

Every interaction we have with those we lead, must take that into consideration.  How do we want to be remembered? 

Earlier this week, while walking to work, I saw a young cadet who looked like he was dragging a bit on the way to class.  We exchanged salutes and a greeting, and I was amazed and encouraged to hear him say that time seemed to be moving quickly this year. 

FUMA, no matter what comforts we provide, will always be challenging and demanding.  The military rigor of daily personnel and room inspections, marching to breakfast, a full day of classes, compulsory athletics/personal fitness, evening retreat, and Call to Quarters (mandatory study time) makes for a full day. 

This past weekend, our first leave weekend for the Upper School, was a terrific time for many cadets to see their families and friends for the first time in several weeks.  I was interested in checking the morale of those who remained at school, so walked around the campus on Saturday afternoon. 

Cadets were watching college football in their rooms, practicing digital citizenship on their laptop computers, enjoying the Social Center, or working out at the Estes Athletic Center.  A small group from the Cooking Club picked apples, and made caramel apples for the evening movie.

While I was disappointed that no one had visited the Beatty Library (also open on Saturday and Sunday), many told me that young people don't spend much time in libraries any more...a trend we hope to reverse.  Every [appropriate] magazine and paper imaginable is available in our library, along with WiFi, and a magnificent book collection, to say nothing about the gifted librarian on duty...ready to help in an instant.

Last week we participated in the Annual Global Day of Student Prayer.  From their website: "Imagine the potential of Christians from all different churches and ministries at a school joining together in united prayer. 'See You at the Pole' brings teenagers to their school flagpoles to intercede for other students, their schools, families and nation, asking God to bring moral and spiritual awakening."

It was terrific to see so many cadets participate, and in the moments before the prayer, I commented that I'd never seen the cadets look so good in uniform, or seen boots as shiny as that morning.  The faculty member standing next to me told me not to look at his shoes...but assured me that his would be as shiny as the cadets' boots very soon.  This is "The Year of the Uniform," and while we have a wrinkle or two to work out, the uniform appearance has improved considerably...and my sense is that it has become a source of renewed pride for the Corps of Cadets.

Last week brought a visit by the Jessie Ball DuPont Foundation.  They've been very generous in the past, and we are fortunate to be among the non-profit organizations supported by this foundation.  We hosted Ms. Barbara Roole and Ms. Maria Wrabel, who were left impressed by our mission of educating, developing, and inspiring the next generation of young men who will lead with character...and we look forward to continuing our relationship. 

I spent the rest of that afternoon and evening in Richmond, fulfilling my role on the Board of Directors for the Virginia Council for Private Education (VCPE).  VCPE essentially "accredits the accreditors" and advocates for private education.

I spent Friday morning in Northern Virginia visiting LTC Tom Williams, a distinguished member of the Class of 1942.  I've enjoyed learning more about his sacrifice and service during WWII, Korea, and Vietnam...and have enjoyed the similarities between his Army career and my father's.  Tom never tires of telling stories of his Fork Union Military Academy experience.  He remembers many of his interactions with fellow cadets, faculty, staff, and administrators...and knows they shaped who he has become.

Tom asked me to spend a bit more time in my blogs speaking to the "best aspects of the military" here at FUMA.  It is much different than when we hosted JROTC, but chain of command, military drill, inspections, and traditions continue.  I'll do my best to highlight aspects of this program over the next few months.

I am already at 1000 words...had much more to say, but will save it for later.  I'll close with an "alumnus update" received earlier today.  A 1958 graduate wanted to make sure we knew more about his former roommate, LTC Winfield "Willie" S. Williams Jr., USA, Retired who passed away last February.  Willie lived a full and meaningful life, impacting many along the way, so he asked us to pay a tribute to him, which we will.

He went on to write about their experiences at Fork Union by saying:

"We were proud of ourselves, our squad, our platoon, our company, and our school.  We were not perfect by any means, but rarely did we get sighted for improper attitude or behavior...and thankfully we never had to walk off any excess demerits.  We wanted to be the best at whatever challenge we faced.  Our approach to school academics was much the same, diligently studying assignments in our rooms during quiet time [CQ] each night and then doing our best in classes the following day.  We were not alone in this regard.  We believed all cadets embraced this kind of mindset of striving for excellence.

Looking back at our lives in Fork Union Military Academy, I'm sure Willie would readily agree those times were powerful, kick-start, precedent setting ones that paid big dividends in many different ways in our futures.  I believe Willie's high standards of personal conduct and achievements for himself at FUMA surely enhanced his impressive future.  My wish is that all those he came to know then and thereafter are as proud as I am to carry on in his spirit all the qualities of life he exemplified."

God Bless all FUMA graduates, and those here whose daily quality interactions help shape their lives.


Lessons from David and Goliath

It seems like yesterday that my family was arriving for the weekend...and here it is "blog night" again.  What a pleasant relief it's been from summer to have a week of cool sunny days and crisp nights.  Great running weather, and the perfect opportunity to run a few extra miles in new (bright green) running shoes.

Much of my time was spent writing college recommendations for cadets, meeting with a few cadets who were interested in discussing college options, and meetings around campus and in my office with a few returning cadets who are having particularly good starts to this school year.  I tell each young man they are surrounded by people whose only interest is their success.  It is our reason to go to work each day, and why many of us dedicated the second half of our professional careers (and many who are dedicating the first and second half) to help them achieve their goals.

The chapel service started with a song dedicated by LTC Williamson, our Commandant of Cadets, to those who lost their lives in the tragedy at the Navy Yard on Monday.  He spoke of the events, and we all sang "America the Beautiful."  The chapel message was given by COL Todd Giszack, our Academic Dean.  COL Giszack is an outstanding storyteller, and he shared lessons from David and Goliath...and made some comparisons to the journey of new cadets at Fork Union Military Academy.

While there are no enemy giants to battle here, and we don't allow cadets to hurl rocks, life for all of us, cadets included, goes better when we approach each day with the right attitude.  How we handle situations says much about who we are.  When you face each day, do you think you can be victorious?  Or are you defeated before you even get started?

The Dean and I are aligned regarding our interest in "moving the appreciation index" for cadets.  We want students to appreciate the opportunity they have to attend this great school...even though the Fork Union experience is challenging.  If faculty, staff, administrators, supporters, and cadets all see themselves as vital parts of the educational process, we will all be more successful.  The days of "us" and "them" simply don't work in this transformational environment.

I spent considerable time finishing personal notes to all those who are in our top giving levels.  The highest level is for those who gave $10,000 or more (in the past fiscal year), and the next level is for those who gave between $1,000 and $9,999.  Thankfully there are many letters, each accompanied by a "fresh off the presses" copy of our Strategic Plan, Fork Union 2020.  While each letter has a slightly different hand-written message, we are fortunate that so many recognize that their gifts are an investment in the future.

There are too few places in America today where a young man can go to learn what he needs to know to succeed in today's world.  Very few schools have the courage to give students what they need.  There are many who are willing to give them what they is certainly far easier.

Fork Union Military Academy provides a place built on old-fashioned Christian values like respect, integrity, faith, character, and discipline, and we still require all cadets to be physically fit, and challenge them in the classroom.

The generosity of these Second Century and President's Club supporters allow us to continue educating, developing, and inspiring young men in a college preparatory, Christian, military environment, where cadets learn character, leadership, confidence, independence, and responsibility.

Today was spent meeting with the Executive Committee of our Board of Trustees, and planning out the next three speakers in our Christian Leadership Series.  We will be inviting a diverse group of successful Christian leaders to address the cadets, learn more about FUMA, and in turn become advocates for our mission.

...well, I'm 80 emails behind...have an updated work list from the Board...need to say a prayer (or 400) for the Upper School Cadets who are taking mid-term exams tomorrow.  Pretty amazing that the half of the first (of five) terms is already over...if I'm doing my math right, 10% of the school year is behind us...with only 90% remaining.

It is all about approaching each day with the right attitude.  Do you remember that lesson from the story of David and Goliath?


From Cadet to Governance

At today's chapel service we had a special guest.  Dr. Adam Metwalli visited Fork Union Military Academy for his new board member orientation.  He is the newest member of our Board of Trustees, having graduated from our postgraduate program in 1992.  It was amazing to think that just over twenty years ago he was sitting where the cadets were sitting today, and now he is one of my "bosses" and part of our school's governance.

My hope is that the cadets who heard the introduction appreciated how successful they too will be in just a short time...and while I can't predict that I will still be here in 20 years, if they want to give me some advice on how to be a better head of school, they simply have to come back as a member of our Board.

The service started with a prayer by Cadet Second Lieutenant Sewon Ro, our Battalion Religion Officer:

"Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for this day.  Thank you for gathering us here and giving us the strength to move forward every day.  Lord, help us to respect everybody we meet and bless the faculty members, the teachers, and the Corps of Cadets.  Watch over our lives Lord, and fill us with the Holy Spirit and guide us.  We love you and give all glory to you.  In Jesus' name we pray."

Yes, we stand for something.

As I reread our Articles of Incorporation and By-Laws in anticipation of the orientation visit, I reviewed my job description and noticed these job requirements: " to awaken the people to the importance of Christian education...and strive to increase the endowment and other resources."

There are many other tasks on the list, but these spoke to me as the two most challenging in today's world.  While some say "don't worry about the money," it takes resources to "awaken the people."  So I will resolve to spend a little more time doing both.

Go Books! Go Blue Devils! Go FUMA!

We start the year with 426 cadets.  All-in-all an excellent starting number, particularly considering the quality of the students as measured by their entering GPAs and test scores.  This is my third "beginning of school" as President, and this has been by far the smoothest and most pleasant yet.

My "convocation" remarks are posted at the end of this blog.  During those remarks I told the cadets that everyone in the room had the brains, the character, and the physical stamina to succeed.  We are very pleased with this year's Corps of Cadets, all of whom will benefit from our program of education, development, and inspiration.

Classes started Friday, and that same evening our soccer team scrimmaged (and defeated) Fishburne Military School.  Before the match, two cadets on the team ran over to thank Betsy and me for supporting the team.  Their composure, maturity, and poise reminded me of the Coast Guard Academy, when student athletes would occasionally do the same thing. 

Saturday was another class day and our first home Prep Football game.  Our team played with great character during one of the hottest football games in recent memory, and the entire Corps cheered them on.  One of our graduates from last year, Christian Hackenberg, led his team to victory as the starting quarterback for Penn State.  There is a great article about character and leadership development at FUMA in their college newspaper.

The transformation of Hatcher Hall's exterior is nearly complete, after a herculean effort by our two painters who labored for over a month.  It looks "better than ever," and we are soliciting a fourth bid for a roof replacement.  The roof has been patched many times over the last 60 years...and has worn we are exploring alternatives to replace it...another patch just won't do. 

Memorial Hall came down almost too easily, and within the next two to three weeks its former location will be fully landscaped.  The Motor Lodge and Cadet Diner will be removed by the middle of October...and if anyone wants the "no vacancy" sign or the original motor lodge/diner sign, they will go up on eBay for bid in a few weeks.

What I missed most over the summer was the uniformed cadet corps, and seeing first-hand the difference we make in the lives of young men.  It is wonderful to have these young men back on campus.  I also missed the Tuesday and Thursday chapel services.  I enjoy these short messages, and have heard from many alumni over the last 2 years about the impact these "sermons" had on their lives.

Chaplain Benson spoke of the importance of humility, service, and quoted one of my favorite scripture passages from Luke 18: "For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted."  He challenged each of us to ask ourselves "how are you going to help someone else be successful?"  And talked of faith and confidence...inviting each of us to consider how we spend our time and energy.  How we spend our time and energy forms our identity...our character. 

On Wednesday we had a special surprise as a Coast Guard H-60 Jayhawk helicopter flew over Fork Union Military Academy while conducting training.  While we all hoped they would land, I'm sure in today's environment of closer public scrutiny on military expenditures it is no longer permitted (a mistake by the it distances our military from the public it supports and defends). 

Of course if the Coast Guard wanted over 400 of the finest young men in America to join, landing and allowing them to interact with the pilots and crew would have sold them forever.  Congratulations Chief Mitchell, a member of the aircrew and FUMA alumnus, on a well-deserved retirement from the Coast Guard, and we hope you will visit soon in a more conventional way.

School has officially begun, and excitement abounds.  I hope you enjoy reading my comments to the Corps of Cadets that officially started the school year.  Pay particular attention to the challenges at the end.

"Today officially opens the 116th Academic Session.

Over the last few years I've talked about what it means to be a Fork Union man.

A Fork Union man works for his future.

He sacrifices a little fun today to secure his tomorrow.

He supports his fellow cadets...his brothers.

This year's cadet leaders were selected because we believe they will help cadets to be more successful.

Last year, nine out of ten cadets who started the year finished the year.  It isn't that hard to do...but it takes effort.

This year I would like it to be ten out of ten.  I want to do even better than last year.

We went to great lengths to make sure every young man here has the brains, the character, and the physical stamina to succeed.

At the close of last year I said that the future of Fork Union Military Academy was bright.

That bright future is in this room today...our returning cadets, and our newest 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th graders and postgraduates.

Thank you for attending Fork Union Military Academy, and welcome to the long gray line that includes many distinguished graduates.

This year we will stress our core values of Respect, Integrity, Faith, Character, and Discipline.

Timothy was a young church leader, and Paul, his mentor told him the same thing I often tell young people:

"Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in not neglect your gift which was given to you..."

At the risk of being too honest with you, there are days that I wonder: "What in the world am I doing in Fork Union?"

Some days you may wonder the same thing.

About a minute after asking myself this question, I realize that God wants me to be here so that I can strengthen the school, the faculty, and the staff to do the hard work that needs to be done.

I also believe He wants me to make your cadet experience the best it can be.

I hope you too will realize that God wants you here...and that He will want you to make the most of your time.

At the opening meetings with faculty, I challenged them to set a positive example and to live the core values.

I told them that I know cadets are paying closer attention to what we do than to what we say.

Faculty, staff, and administrators must set examples of military decorum, adult conduct, and Christian character.

There are three things I am going to ask of everyone in this Chapel from the moment we leave this morning.

The first is that I've declared this year, the "Year of the Uniform."  We will all be wrinkle-free, take pride in our appearance, and model military bearing.

The second is already in cadet regulations, but I am going to ask for more than just compliance.

When you are in uniform and pass a uniformed staff, faculty member, or cadet officer, I want hand salutes rendered and returned with pride.

The military hand salute is a time honored tradition...the presentation of the open empty hand...a signal that you mean no harm.

This salute is to be accompanied by a hearty "Good Morning, Good Afternoon, or Good Evening." 

Cadet LTC Bartolotta and I will demonstrate (demonstration).

While you only salute in uniform, I don't want you to pass anyone without the appropriate greeting of the day.

This applies particularly to those you see who you do not know...those who may be visitors.

The third and final thing I will ask of you is that you do at least one thing for someone other than yourself each day.

You can do more than one, but do at least one.

It might be as simple as taking up someone's tray, or offering to get them something to eat or drink while you are might be holding a door, or taking out someone's trash.

Just do one thing for someone other than yourself.

If we all do those three things, and live by our core values, we will create an environment here that everyone will want to be a part of...a special place...a place where none of us will wonder why we are here.

It is great to have you all back.

I'm going to end with some advice that Coach London, the head football coach for the University of Virginia gives to each of his players:

"Go to class.  Show class and treat people with dignity and respect.  Those directions are pretty easy to follow and will lead you on the path to success."

Go Books!  Go Blue Devils!  Go FUMA!"

Preparation Becomes Action

We've planned, prepared, and tomorrow the returning Upper School cadets will arrive to start the school year.  On Friday morning at 0930 I will address cadets, faculty, staff, and administrators for the first time, officially opening the 116th Academic Session.  I've been impressed by the cadets (and their parents) at all the previous check-ins, and look forward to greeting the returning cadets (and their parents) tomorrow.

We were selective in who was admitted, and in who we invited to return, and my suspicion is that we have the "best and brightest" Corps of Cadets in many years...but look forward to hearing from the alumni and settling any disputes. 

Knowing that the opening of school would require my full attention, the weekend before the faculty returned I took an extra day to visit James Scott and Emily Grace (my grandchildren) in Winchester.  Betsy and I took our grandson to Monkey Joes (which demanded more energy than running 5 miles), and I spent hours showing my granddaughter that I can put any child to sleep, regardless of how much they try to resist.

Our third grandchild is due in November...and already on my calendar.  Betsy spent some time with my daughter this week, while I greeted the returning cadet officers, soccer team, postgraduate basketball players, and faculty.  The Board Chairman and I held the first meeting of a newly formed Development Committee, which is part of our Board of Trustees, and will assist in generating the resources necessary to achieve the vision articulated in our strategic plan.

This week we highlighted our core values, which we will emphasize the entire school year.  The core values are defined on our website, and will guide the actions and the behavior of cadets, faculty, staff, and administrators.  At the first meetings with faculty I challenged them to memorize these values (in order) by the following week.  Faith remains at the center, guided by respect and integrity.  These three values define our character (and reputation), while discipline gives us the freedom to live a purposeful life.

As part of our leadership training for our newest cadet officers, Master Chief Mike Wilton and I spoke of the origin and implementation of the United States Coast Guard's Core Values (Honor, Respect, Devotion to Duty), and the impact they had on our students at Training Center Yorktown and cadets at the United States Coast Guard Academy.

At the end of last week we held a school meeting with everyone in attendance...faculty, dining facility, maintenance, interns, staff, athletics...everyone who interacts with cadets or their parents.  While I can't list all that was said, I will summarize with these points:

Cadets are always watching, and sometimes listening...we must set the standards we expect to be followed and be aligned with the school's mission...we have an exceptional opportunity to work in a school that "stands for something" and is unique in America today...we must work hard, be nice, and strengthen others...if we don't impart Christian values, and build character at Fork Union Military Academy, it may not ever be done.  It certainly isn't happening in enough places today, and we are fortunate to have this opportunity to positively impact the lives of young men.

There is a real sense of optimism on the campus.  The time and effort spent this summer preparing for the school year was worth it.

Everything is not perfect here...nothing is...other than God's love.  I will focus tomorrow evening on choosing the right words to help us gain even more momentum.  I believe the answer lies in our students and those of us who guide and teach them every day.  We will escape the strong power of inertia by looking to the future...learning from the past, but not being held back by it.

I will close by sharing part of an article written by one of our faculty members.  At the end of the last school year, in the course of a conversation about his plans for the following year, I learned what motivated him to keep teaching.  I asked him to write down his thoughts so that we could publish an article entitled "Why I Teach."  His first draft captured the excitement of the classroom, showed a deep respect for his students, and illustrated the many challenges facing teachers everywhere.  This is a glimpse of that article:

"Why I teach.  It is more than a job.  It is a full-time commitment to a lifetime of learning, discovery, and sharing with others.  'Teacher' defines who I am.  It is my identity.  It is my reason to exist.  It demands spiritual, intellectual, and physical endurance...and a good sense of humor.  It all comes together when the teacher becomes the student and the student becomes the teacher.

The experience can be exasperating, perplexing, and occasionally infuriating...but the results are enriching, enlivening, and empowering.  You cannot hide from your students.  They are constantly observing you, testing you, and measuring whether you 'practice what you preach.'  In taking ownership of the class I endeavor for students to take ownership of their education.

Why I teach.  In the classroom I have something to say...a lesson to teach...knowledge to impart...and experiences to share.  Winning compliance is the ultimate test.  It is a humbling realization requiring patience and discipline working outside my comfort zone to transcend what I want to do, to do what I have to do, to address the needs of each student.

No two classes are alike.  Each class is unique, yet most students share similar desires for individuality and self-expression.  They know what they want, but don't know how to get there.  Teaching them how to think about solving problems impacts the way I think about problems, and in so doing, I remain a work in progress.

Education is a process...not an end in itself, and although perfection is unattainable, the benefits of its pursuit are unexpected and incomparable.  They endure for a lifetime.  That is why I teach!"


Ready for the Leaders to Arrive

For those who pay attention to such things, this is the same blog title I used last year.  A year ago we were still trying to occupy Jacobson Hall, and planning our opening ceremonies.  While we are still learning more and more about the building, it now feels like home, and has helped us impact the culture of the school.  The dormitory is the best of any military boarding school in America, and better than most college dorms. 

I am proud of how our cadets cared for their home-away-from-home last year, and anticipate this year being even better.  The cadet leaders arrive on Monday, and to honor the occasion, Master Chief Petty Officer Mike Wilton, my new Assistant, and I will transition from "traditional summer casual" to our United States Coast Guard Tropical Blue Long.  We both look forward to being back in uniform and eagerly await the arrival of young men who are preparing (and perhaps destined) to lead.

The Master Chief and I will lead the Strategic Goal to Integrate Character and Leadership Development Throughout the Academy.

Last year we emphasized respect, communications, and setting an example.  We modeled respect toward all cadets, and expected cadets to respect themselves and others.  We also emphasized the importance of communicating effectively and often to parents, and the need to set the example for military appearance, behavior, and demeanor.

This year we will continue this emphasis, along with highlighting the Fork Union Military Academy Core Values identified in our strategic planning process.  Those core values are Respect, Integrity, Faith, Character, and Discipline.  You can read the definitions on our website.  We will be providing a card for each cadet with these values and their definition.  We intend to build habits for a lifetime, one thought and action at a time.

Tomorrow marks a significant transition in the history of Fork Union Military Academy.  COL Bob Miller, our Academic Dean, will be relieved by COL Todd Giszack.  COL Miller served us well and with great distinction, having been a former Superintendent of Fishburne Military School.  LTG John Jackson worked personally to have Bob join him at FUMA, and they made a terrific team.

COL Giszack served me well as Assistant to the President.  He is prepared for this next challenge, and will lead our Strategic Goal to Develop Critical Thinking, Communications, Creativity, Collaboration, and Cultural Competency Skills through Academic Excellence.  Earlier this week we met with the Virginia Association of Independent Schools (VAIS) to chart a course toward our decennial reaccreditation in April 2015.

During the last two weeks we've also been hosting our annual audit.  Each year we bring in an independent accounting firm to go through all our expenses and income...including a review of our endowment and development operations.  It is an annual reminder of the "business" side of operating a private non-profit school, and we are always better as a result.

As the beginning of school approaches, I'm continuing my search for the "perfect" book for all faculty, staff, and students to read.  I enjoyed reading Do Hard Things: A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations by Alex and Brett Harris, and came close to choosing this book, but am leaning toward How Children Succeed by Paul Tough for the faculty, and Seven Men and the Secret of Their Greatness by Eric Metaxas for cadets and staff.  If you have a favorite you think would serve us well, please send the title to me, Chaplain James Benson, or Ms. Lynn Armstrong, our Head Librarian.  We are working as a team to find just the right book(s).

This project of searching for a suitable book, also had me rereading Captains Courageous by Rudyard Kipling...but a number of issues kept me from choosing this classic.  I enjoyed reading it for its timeless lesson on the importance of working hard and being nice.

Our Information Technology staff (of only three) learned from Microsoft how to successfully migrate the school from our own server to "the cloud" (wherever that is).  This will assist us through the many power outages, surges, and crashes the school has experienced.  We anticipate that moving email and other items off our servers will give us more time to focus on the one-to-one laptop transition.

Last week we hosted Tom and Doris Pruitt, providing them with a personal tour of the new barracks and Social Center.  They seemed impressed by the "transition" the campus is undergoing, with buildings receiving "facelifts," the most recent being the exterior painting of Hatcher Hall.  Betsy and I invited them for lunch at Careby Hall, where the conversation focused on children, grandchildren, and education.  We are blessed to have the Pruitts as friends of FUMA, and enjoyed spending quality time with them during the relative quiet of summer.

With the postgraduate, prep, and junior prep football players checked in (130 cadets total) we are beginning to feel more and more alive each day.  We look forward to over 50 cadet leaders checking in on Monday.

We are all ready for these cadet leaders to arrive...and excited to continue the excellent start we have to this school year.  Of course we are also looking forward to the faculty returning on Wednesday. We have a strong plan to implement many new initiatives and continue gaining momentum in our quest to be a national leader among independent boarding schools.

After all, this is going to be the best year ever in the history of Fork Union Military Academy...


Dr. Hatcher Was Right

As I prepare remarks for the Snead Reunion this weekend, I happened upon a quote written by Dr. Hatcher in the 1899 school catalogue for [then] Fork Union Academy: "Next to faithful religious training, a good education is the noblest heritage that parents can bestow upon their children."

We have 25 more "paid" applicants than this time last year, and while we would like to see more Middle School students applying, the cohort for our 9th and 10th grades is stronger than in many years.  In just four weeks we will be fully back to life, and beginning our 116th academic year.

Without the Snead family it is safe to say that Fork Union Military Academy would never have been started or survived.  It was the Sneads who donated much of the land, and Captain Charles Goodall Snead was a good friend (and brother-in-law) of Dr. Hatcher, who was married to the former Virginia Snead.  I know from experience that wives have much to say about school I know that Mrs. Hatcher was helpful in ways we may never know.

Summer school went very well this year.  We had 115 students complete the four week program, that balanced body, mind, and spirit.  I was on campus for the Saturday final exam and departure, and was impressed by the high spirits of families and could see just how many friendships had been formed among the young men.  It was heartwarming to recognize our college-age youth counselors...six of our alumni who served as shepherds for the entire summer.

We also had an impressive Coach Fletcher Arritt Basketball Camp, run this year by our postgraduate coach, CPT Matt Donahue.  I was asked to close the camp with a few words and a prayer...after watching the tournament was fun to be around young enthusiastic girls and boys (grades 3 - 11), all interested in improving their skills.

Throughout the campus, we completed out our WiFi network, ensuring all our classrooms have wireless capabilities for the laptops each student will bring.  All the computers will be connected through a software program called LanSchool (  This will allow us to monitor computer usage, and connect the computers together in the classroom to see the work being done in class by each student, and allow students to be led by the classroom teacher.

We are working to ensure this transition is smooth, and will be dedicating one full time faculty member for the first two terms to help all faculty members take full advantage of this new instructional tool (laptops).  We will also teach digital citizenship so that our cadets are well equipped for the freedom they may experience in college, with less social support.  We will also fully integrate all faculty members to PowerSchool (an item highlighted in our parent survey).

Before I left to visit my mother in Florida, we also finalized plans for the cadet physical fitness program and met to ensure the final "punch-list" items for Jacobson Hall will be completed before the expiration of the one year warranty period.

On our way to Florida, Betsy and I stopped by to visit George and Leeda Currin near Charlotte, NC.  It was good to see them both again, as they have been in all our prayers for so long.  George enjoyed the gift we took along, which was a 3' x 2' map of the campus.  We recently had our map updated (  If you haven't visited the site in a while, we also updated our "virtual tour."  Leeda asked me to pass along that George enjoys the visits at their lake home, and they look forward to others stopping by.

We were saddened to learn the very next day that long time Trustee and friend of FUMA, Mr. Jerome Johnson "Jon" Richardson, Jr., passed away on July 16th after an extended illness.  Jon was a man of integrity and grace, and his fight with cancer never daunted his spirit.  At just 53, he was far too young to die, but up until the very end he was supportive of this school, and talked about his interest in our emerging leadership programs and scholarship support.

A past "Call to Quarters" magazine had an alumni profile of Jon, who was a postgraduate student in 1977-1978.  When asked why he loved FUMA, he said: "FUMA stands for a lot of convictions that I feel strongly about, and it is important to me to help as I can to make sure FUMA continues to offer the same benefits to others.  Good, strong core values are a vital and critical foundation for long-term success and fulfillment, and I feel very fortunate to have, and carry with me the strong values and convictions my parents and FUMA instilled in me."

The last week here has been filled with other activities to prepare us for the arrival of cadets, beginning with our high school football team on August 9th.  Our new strategic plan is at the printers, and will be ready to begin the school year, and next week we will meet with the Virginia Association of Independent Schools (VAIS) to begin our 18 month journey (really an everyday journey) toward our reaccreditation visit (done every 10 years).

I have been spending as much time as possible "out and about" ensuring the facility is ready for "full power," and I'm pleased that we are over half way finished with the exterior painting of Hatcher Hall (it is magnificent)...and we have a new activity bus on the way.  The updated cadet regulations are also at the printers, and we are anticipating "putting the 'M' back in military" this year. 

We plan to take extra effort to ensure all the elements of change are implemented and reinforced.  Change comes from high standards, deliberate practice, breaking the task into small pieces, and changing the physical world.  All of those will be in abundance this year, a year I've dubbed "The Year of the Uniform."

There is so much more to say, but I've reached my thousand words.  Let me close with a quote from FUMA's seventh President, COL K. T. Whitescarver:

"By challenging our cadets to live in ways they may consider unfair, unrealistic, or idealistic, we affirm them as responsible young adults able to lead this republic in the 21st Century.  If our cadets are to be what they might, if our country is to be what it can, then eliciting the very best from our cadets must be our first duty as educators.  And we must be very clear about one thing; if we don't do it, no one else will.

This is an exhilarating time to be in education as we look to the last century of Fork Union's progress and prepare for the next century."


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 school year.  The 115th Commencement is well documented by videos of the speeches given by Dr. Charles "Chuck" Swindoll, our guest speaker, and Cadet LTC Dallas Bonner, our valedictorian.  We also included a touching video featuring many of our cadets, and the afterglow of receiving their diplomas.

This "last week" went extremely well...punctuated by the very positive behavior of our undergraduates and the Class of 2013.  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 a year ago (believe it or not).  It looks even better today, because our maintenance staff added three fresh coats of wax to every room, and every hallway.

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 our favorite spot in the mountains.  Thankfully there is still no cell phone coverage.  The week was filled with runs, walks, bike rides, reading books, quiet, rest, great food, and an evening of "culture" in nearby Abingdon, for a live performance of Les Miserables at the Barter Theater.

It was a wonderful "getaway," and an opportunity to rest, refresh, recharge, read, and renew.  Linked here is a list of the books I read if you are interested in seeing what was on my reading list.  We celebrated my mother's 88th birthday...and will follow up with a visit to see her in Florida later this summer.  My mother said she missed my blog these last 5 weeks...and encouraged me to bring it back.

After a week back in Fork Union, including a wedding anniversary, we celebrated the birth of our second grandchild, Emily Grace Burhoe...and were blessed to learn that my daughter's first child will be a son...due in November.  The roads between here, Winchester, and Clarksburg, MD will see a lot of us...doing our best to enjoy our ever-expanding family.

As the Navy SEAL's say, "The only easy day was yesterday."   We are back to work here 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.

All the improvements are consistent with yearlong discussions with faculty, staff, trustees, cadets, and parents...and confirmed by our senior and parent surveys. 

We are publishing the completed strategic plan, which is already guiding our daily work.  One important new element of this plan is the articulation of our core values: Respect, Integrity, Faith, Character, and Discipline.  They will guide the actions of faculty, staff, and cadets.  You may print a copy of the document from our website.

On August 21st, LTC Todd Giszack will assume the duties as Fork Union Military Academy's next Academic Dean, and be promoted to Colonel.  Todd started here at FUMA in 1997 as an Upper School Science Teacher, serving for two years as the Department Head before becoming Assistant to the President in 2004.  He has a BS from Virginia Tech, and a Master's Degree in Education from Radford University, in addition to continuing studies in Counseling at Liberty University.

LTC Giszack was the Steering Committee Chair for our last 10 year accreditation by VAIS, and has served on 5 visiting teams, most recently as Vice Chairman.  He also is the only person who applied who met every criteria listed in the position description.

In early August, Mike Wilton, a retired USCG Master Chief Petty Officer, will become the new Assistant to the President.  He served as my Command Master Chief at Training Center Yorktown, where we housed, educated, and trained over 900 students, most of them young men and women new to the Coast Guard.  He retired from the Coast Guard in 2009 after 29 years of service, having been a professional engineer, educator, trainer, and leader.  He has a Bachelor's Degree and is nearly complete with his Master's Degree in Program Management from Strayer University.

At his retirement ceremony, I spoke of his humility, leadership, and how generous he was with his time in service to others, particularly the young students he coached and mentored...and how he made the people around him even better.  MCPO Wilton will serve as our facilities engineer, and will be my "point man" implementing our goal to "Integrate Character and Leadership Development throughout the Academy."

This leadership transition will ensure forward momentum toward the vision articulated in our new strategic plan, and will help us educate, develop, and inspire "bright young men who can lead with character."

For the five weeks following graduation it was clear that something very important was missing from the school...and the start of summer school last Sunday brought that valuable commodity back to us...our students.  This year's summer school has more "first time" students than ever before in our history.  Throughout the campus, everyone has been impressed by the quality of the young men (and their parents), who were drawn to our top-notch academic, athletic, and spiritual programs.

Work has begun to remove Memorial Hall, leaving valuable "green space" in its place.  This is the final step of the Jacobson Hall project.  The middle of this month work will begin to paint Hatcher Hall to match the lighter paint scheme which will soon be throughout the campus.  We are also working to remove the motor lodge vacated last year, and the attached diner, which will close the end of this month.  The Middle School Barracks is receiving a "no surgery" facelift to refresh the furniture...and brighten up the rooms.

Next week I will share more about summer school, basketball camp, and about our bright future, but let me end this blog with a highlight.  Last week, LTC Al Williamson, the Commandant of Cadets, and I interviewed four rising seniors who will fill our top cadet leadership positions.  I was impressed by their poise and thoughtfulness, and appreciated how aligned they were on the important tasks ahead.  Each was enthusiastic, optimistic, and willing to do the hard work necessary to help guide their classmates and underclassmen in a journey of accountability and discipline.

One spoke of "tapping into common ground," and " someone should when they look after someone else."  All spoke of their belief in the school and its mission, and wanted to emulate the best qualities of other cadet leaders, and learning from the mistakes of others.  All four conversations were energizing, uplifting, and made me realize that when it is time to begin the school year again, we will be more ready than ever.



Last Chapel Service

This will be my final blog of Fork Union Military Academy’s 115th Academic Year.  I will blog occasionally over the summer.  I will close this year with the message I delivered this morning at the Last Chapel Service of the year:

Sometimes I sit in the back of Wicker Chapel to see the service from the "cadet perspective" rather than over on the side with the faculty and staff...

...I also come here when the Chapel is empty...and sit in the front row listening first to the silence...and next for God to provide support and answer my prayers.

During the week I stop whatever I am doing to be here at 1015 on Tuesday and Thursday...and come occasionally at 0930 on Sunday.

This is a wonderful Chapel...approaching its 80th year here on the campus. 

To many alumni, this is a place where they found peace and support; making sense of their lives at Fork Union and at home, in the same way I do...

...I believe with all my heart that we were each placed on this Earth to serve God, and we serve Him by serving others.

I really like it when we concentrate our prayers on one person or goal...there is great power in prayer...and even greater power when many pray for the same thing.  I pray for each of you often.

It is hard enough to come up with just one message, so I continue to be impressed by how well Chaplain Benson can come up with three different messages each week.  Let's take a moment to recognize what a terrific job he's done this year...

It is tradition that the President speaks at the first and last Chapel Service.

I tend to live in the future...a world of what can be...what should be... and what will be.

I see a very bright future for Fork Union Military Academy.  A future that is bigger than any one of us in this room.  A future unconstrained, yet guided by our past.

I see a place where everyone does the right thing because it is the right thing...not because they'll get punished if they don't...or get rewarded if they do.

I see a place where everyone gets along and supports each other, because they understand that relationships are everything.

Last year I spoke about what it means to be a Fork Union Man...

...that a Fork Union Man works for his future.  He sacrifices a little fun today to secure his tomorrow.  He looks after and supports his fellow cadets.  There are many examples in the Chapel today.

I've learned over these last two years that one of the biggest gifts this experience gives each of you is lifelong friends and brothers.

A Fork Union Man is respectful, honest, faithful, and disciplined.  He demonstrates character.  Aristotle said that "We are what we repeatedly do."

I can look around this Chapel and remember who didn't make it through this school year.  Those who couldn't delay gratification no matter what it cost...and those who weren't willing to do what was right...

I believe that there is a top 10%, a bottom 10%, and a middle 80%.  And that everybody deserves equal time and attention.

We did our best this year to treat the Corps like the top 90% deserve to be treated...

Jacobson Hall, the Social Center, and other privileges reflect that.

Our goal is to have the top 90% lift up the others...and eventually we'll have a top 100%...or at least 99%.

I am very proud of the Corps of Cadets this year.  This year was better than the year before...but not as good as next year will be.

I am proud of you because you endured long speakers without complaint...because of your performance on the drill field during formal reviews, and the way you won on the athletic fields with grace and dignity...

I am going to tell one story that may best summarize what I saw in you this year...

Last Wednesday we were visited by 3 older gentlemen, one a 1952 graduate of Fork Union Military Academy.  One of the visitors dropped his full tray and everything crashed onto the floor.

At nearly every other school in America there would have been clapping or snickers...but not here.  Five cadets jumped up from their seats to help...they picked up the mess, and asked him if he was okay.

He wrote the Dean saying that not only did that impress him and his friends, but how touched they were by how each cadet during their entire visit looked them in the eye and greeted them with respect and enthusiasm.

When it was time to shine, you let your light shine.  I saw it hundreds of times this year.

I have been proud to represent this Corps of Cadets and this school in the community, to its alumni, and to our Board of Trustees...and I look forward to doing it again next year.

This is the last Chapel service of the 115th academic session..

I pray that all of you have a terrific summer, whether you work or play.

Remember that people will judge you and the school by your actions...

As the Corps goes, the Academy goes...

We are all in this together.

As you know, normally I end my remarks by saying Go FUMA! I would like to do something a little different.  Today I will say 1-2-3 and you...the Corps of Cadets, Faculty, Staff...all of us together will say Go FUMA! Like we mean it...

Ready, 1-2-3...


Leave A Legacy

Major Brooks Berry served with humility, integrity, and showed us all what it means to be a "Fork Union Man."  He gave the Chapel lesson last week, and his major point was that "...leaving a legacy is not optional."  He spoke of Saul, of Winston Churchill, and of a few Fork Union alumni.

He talked about the impact FUMA had on him as a cadet, and how attending Fork Union allowed young men to leave a more meaningful legacy on the world.  We are proud of Brooks Berry for being selected as The Covenant School's next Athletic Director.  We will miss him, and wish him much success.

I held a number of meetings to follow up on the Board's direction, including a final review of plans to provide wireless access to all our classrooms for our one-to-one laptop initiative.  This includes a system that will allow us to monitor student activity in each classroom, and while "wired" in the barracks.  We will use LanSchool, a classroom management and monitoring system that "enhances learning in a computer lab by replicating the teacher's monitor to all computer monitors as well as allows a teacher to control a student's computer."

Our goal is to create digital citizens; young people who understand the proper use of available technology, digital etiquette, including rights and responsibilities, as well as their own digital health, wellness, and self-protection.  This comes with some risk, but far more benefit to our graduates.  We believe the rewards for enhancing the learning environment will outweigh these risks.

One of our Middle School cadets, Cadet Scott Meadows, earned the Purple Heart Scholarship awarded by the Association of Military Colleges and Schools in the United States.  We had a ceremony that included Dr. Rudy Ehrenberg, the Executive Director of AMCSUS, and Scott's parents surprised him by attending the mid-week ceremony.