Utah students walk a mile in Guardsmen's shoes at 51st Annual Freedom Academy

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  • By Senior Airman Lillian Harnden
  • 151 ARW/PA
From across the entire state of Utah, 89 high school seniors gathered to attend the 51st Annual Freedom Academy, hosted by the Utah National Guard, at Camp Williams July 29 to August 3.

Freedom Academy's purpose is twofold: teach leadership skills to inspire students to become future community leaders, and promote patriotism by exposing students to processes designed to maintain America's freedom and liberty.

"Freedom Academy gives delegates an expanded view of leadership and the freedoms we enjoy, and how those two things are so linked together," said Major Matthew Badell, the Freedom Academy Director.

Annually, every high school in the state of Utah has the opportunity to send up to two seniors each. School counselors usually nominate their student body officers to attend Freedom Academy.

"These are delegates who have been selected by their peers to be a leader in their school," said Badell. "They are already starting to show some of the seeds and promise of leadership by seeking out office in their schools. Freedom Academy provides them an opportunity to expand their view. No leader has ever been successful without vision and without the ability to articulate that vision and communicate. We give them some tools and experiences that will help them become better leaders."

The hope is that by selecting student body officers to attend they will bring back their Freedom Academy experiences to share among their peers said Badell.

"We've heard of these delegates going back to their schools and hosting Freedom Days; where they have the student body assemble and they bring someone in to talk about freedom or a patriotic theme. So those are neat follow-n experiences that are inspired from Freedom Academy," said Badell.

Freedom Academy is not a recruiting tool said Badell.

"In fact we know that delegates do not enlist in the military after attending Freedom Academy," said Badell. "This isn't about trying to get them to join the military as much as it is helping them become better leaders. They have the opportunity to experience a little bit of Army life, and to see firsthand that the movie portrayal of the military is not always accurate. We are not mindless machines."

A delegate from Valley High in Orderville, Cheyenne Cox, explained what she will take away from Freedom Academy.

"Freedom Academy has opened my eyes to real Army life," said Cox. "I now understand how much servicemen and women do for our country. We wouldn't live and enjoy our everyday lives without their service. When I leave I will have a greater appreciation for our flag."

Utah NG's Honorary Colonels Corps has sponsored Freedom Academy since 1961 and they are the driving force behind it. Freedom Academy is unique to Utah and is one of The Adjutant General's programs. Utah's Army and Air National Guard both work together to supply necessary personnel and resources to support the program. Funding is also complemented by contributions from local businesses like Associated Foods who donated $5000 in food products this year.

Freedom Academy widens perspective on freedom

Learning about the military is only one aspect of Freedom Academy. Delegates are also exposed to several other freedom-aiding organizations. They tour the local hallmarks of freedom, and meet with Utah leaders who offer advice on leadership and perspective on freedom.

Utah State Capitol Tour:

During a tour of the Capitol, Freedom Academy delegates filled seats in the House of Representatives, and the Utah State Senate, to listen as the Chief of Staff of each chamber explained their function and process.

Upon seeing the delegates touring the Capitol, Governor Gary R. Herbert took a moment to tell them a story about the State Capitol as an example of good leadership. He explained the controversy 100 years ago behind building such a large and ornate building when Utah had only 300,000 residents, though today Utah is approaching three million residents.

"Those early founding fathers 100 years ago were thinking about what we could become. Not what we are, but about the tremendous potential of this state. I am inspired by the building itself because I know it represents the vision of those who have gone before. They had vision to see to this day and beyond. And just as important as the vision, they had the courage to forge through with it, in spite of the naysayers and opposition who said we didn't need a Capitol this big because we were a small state. Today we pay homage to those people who had vision and courage to implement the vision."

Herbert encouraged the delegates to also lead with vision and courage.

"We all stand on the shoulders of those who've gone before us. As Utahans you are still blazing trails for those who will come after us, hopefully making it better. That's you're responsibility as the rising generation. You're going to be pioneers in one way or another. Now it's going to be your challenge to gather the courage and vision to lead, and you're going to be called upon to lead. When it's involved in military, when it's involved in business or civic affairs, you have great opportunity in this country and this state. It's going to take vision and courage coupled together to make it happen. So I wish you well in that quest."

Utah Federal Courthouse Tour:

At the Federal Courthouse delegates sat in the pews of an opulent court room as two federal judges, Judge Dee Benson and Magistrate Judge Paul M. Warner, explained the judicial system. Warner advised the delegates about the value of hard work during a court trial in preserving the rights of both the defendant and the victim.

"If both sides are working hard the truth is more likely to come out," said Warner. "If somebody is laying down on the job, it does not serve justice. We are dealing with people's lives."

Utah State Prison Tour:

Delegates witnessed life without freedom at the state prison. They observed the living conditions of prisoners. In a controlled environment, designated inmates shared their personal stories. They warned against alcohol and drug use, stating it lead them into a life of crime and prison. The tour was also coupled with a counterdrug lecture at Camp Williams.

KUTV Channel 2 News Studio Tour:

Delegates were shown how news is collected and disseminated in a full studio tour at KUTV Channel 2 News. News anchors Sterling Poulson, Brian Mullahy, and Heidi Hatch spoke about their experiences in the news business. Poulson spoke about the Bill of Rights: freedom of speech and free press. He discussed the importance of being informed media consumers and cautioned them on social media.

"Social media is a very young form of media and isn't always reliable," said Poulson. "Never believe it until you can prove it."

Guest speakers motivate, teach good leadership traits

Throughout the week at Camp Williams, several guest speakers spoke about freedom and what it takes to become a good leader. Badell described the significance behind a few of the messages speakers brought to Freedom Academy.

"Skip Morgan is a Utahan with a lifelong history of volunteerism and community service, and he continues to volunteer even though multiple sclerosis has confined him to a wheelchair," said Badell. "He spoke to the delegates about how hope is so important. If you don't have hope for a better tomorrow then you'll give up. And a leader cannot afford to not have hope. They can't afford to not spread hope to others. Leadership is about inspiring people, motivating them towards a goal. Here at Freedom Academy, they have the opportunity to learn how to do that."

Former Senator Jake Garn, who is also a retired Brigadier General from the Utah Air National Guard, gave a welcoming speech to the delegates. He also emphasized the value of education and the need to continually "train your brains" to keep pace with the speed of technological advancement in this age. Garn explained how he used the military to liftoff his piloting career, how that career (through continual training) launched him all the way to outer space, and how seeing Earth from space was a life changing experience.

"We all live on a little speck of dust called Earth, and we've got to fight over it?" asked Garn. "We are all astronauts flying on Earth together. We shouldn't have the wars and fighting we have today."

Garn also explained why he thinks the delegates should learn about the military.

"I think it's very helpful for Freedom Academy delegates to learn about the military, to understand what the military has done for this country, and to appreciate the freedom and opportunity that have been given to all of us because of those who have been willing to serve," said Garn.

Paraphrasing Garn's speech, Badell described why Freedom Academy invites Garn to be the first guest speaker every year.

"Garn does a great job of explaining how, 'Guess what, I grew up in Richfield, and here I am an astronaut, a general, a senator,'" said Badell. "With all of the things he's accomplished in his life, it really shows them the sky is the limit, or in his case space is the limit. It opens their eyes to fact that, 'You know what? I can do anything. The world is my oyster.' That is so important because so many times people are stopped in their progress because they lack the vision of what they can accomplish."

A delegate from Davis High in Kaysville, Sarah Zubeldia, said Freedom Academy taught her that she can really make a difference.

"I've learned how much we can really make a difference in people's lives," said Zubeldia. "The small things really count. I've been touched by all the small things, and big things, here at Camp Williams and I hope to touch people's lives back at school."

Tools, experiences Freedom Academy provides

Freedom Academy is not a regimen of all talk and no action. The training schedule brimmed over with interactive, hands-on training and action-packed adventure. Not only did delegates walk a mile in Guardsmen's shoes by learning how to march, by participating in flag ceremonies and by consuming Meals Ready to Eat while in the field. They also climbed a mile in a Guardsmen's obstacle course.

All delegates completed a Leadership Reaction Course; an obstacle course impossible to complete without working together in small groups, communicating, and using critical thinking skills to overcome the obstacle. For instance, a group of delegates on one ledge had to solve how to reach the ledge on the other side by using a rope and three boards, none long enough to span the distance. At each new obstacle, a new delegate was required to lead so that each delegate would get a chance to experience both leadership and followership.

"The most valuable lesson I learned here is how to lead," said Cameron Cooley, a delegate from Copper Hills High School in West Jordan. "Also, how to step back and let someone else lead, yet still be a valuable part of the team."

Delegates also tried their hand at rifle marksmanship in a Firearms Training Simulator room. The simulator is a giant sized video game in a room setup for 10 players at a time. Using simulator weapons that resemble M-16 rifles, the delegates aimed at onscreen targets which were projected to pop-up at different ranges. The mock weapons only shoot air and laser beams, but (since the weapons are air pressurized) they do simulate the kickback effect of a real weapon.

"They provide the look and feel of handling a real weapon without the functionality and safety concerns of a real weapon," said Mr. Ryan Becker, a training integrator with the Utah Training Center at Camp Williams.

"The reason we train in a simulator room, verses a firing range where we learn marksmanship, is because the simulator teaches tactics that require working as a team," said TSgt. Kelly Collett, a Freedom Academy staff member who previously trained in the simulator. "The first instinct when we go in that room is to shoot every target that pops up. However, when we start shooting at everything we lose our lane of what we are supposed to be covering, and that's dangerous. We have to learn to trust the person on our left, and the person on our right, to cover their lane of fire. It's a big trust building exercise."

The delegates participated in numerous other activities at Camp Williams. They climbed rock wall towers, and repelled down them. From a high platform, wearing full harness with safety lines, those daring enough made "leap of faith" jumps into open air. To explain the numerous different jobs in the Army, they were shown several different Army vehicles like the Apache helicopter, and artillery equipment like the M109A6 Paladin Self Propelled Howitzer. A few delegates were allowed to fire powder from a small ceremonial cannon. They drove heavy equipment machinery like bulldozers, front end loaders, and motor graders. They learned how to exit a crashed vehicle safely in a Humvee Rollover Simulator.

During a tour of the Utah ANG base, they competed in a Fireman's Challenge obstacle course. They explored a KC-135 Stratotanker and F-16 Fighter Falcon static display. Col. Samuel H. Ramsay, the base commander, educated them on the base's refueling mission.

To sharpen their public speaking abilities and help them overcome stage fright, delegates performed in a speech contest one night and a talent show the next night.

A delegate from Cedar High in Cedar City, Ashlee Anderson, stated she was "volun-told" to sing the National Anthem during the flag raising ceremony each morning. Though she said she likes to sing, she never sang in front of a large group of her peers before. Anderson summed up her experience at Freedom Academy by stating, "This whole week has really pushed me outside my comfort zone. It got me out of my shell. I think that's something that will help me throughout my whole life. It's been really great."