CAMP WILLIAMS, Utah -- The Utah National Guard, in conjunction with the Honorary Colonels, hosted high school students from across the state at Camp Williams during the annual Freedom Academy July 31-August 5. When it originally started in 1961, there were four delegates. This year there were 103 student delegates, many of whom are current high school seniors preparing to be student leaders in the upcoming school year.
Each year, Freedom Academy delegates get the chance to spend a week learning about the freedoms they share through visits to the state Capitol Building, the state prison, and Utah Air and Army National Guard bases. They also participate in team-building exercises like the Leadership Reaction Course at Camp Williams, while getting the chance to get to know each other and network with other student leaders.
This year marked the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Academy program. Utah Army National Guard Maj. Matthew T. Badell said that the milestone is a stepping stone for the future of the program and the partnership with the Honorary Colonels and the National Guard.
"As the 50th anniversary of Freedom Academy, it certainly is historic," said Badell. "It's an opportunity for us to celebrate that, and the fact that the Honorary Colonels have been so supportive of it for so many years is a testament to the Utah men and women who have literally sacrificed to make sure this event continues to move forward."
Sgt. 1st Class Dustin Boyack, from the 197th Special Troops, said he has participated in the program for six years. Boyack said Freedom Academy was a "good, solid program" and he was glad to see it was continuing through its 50th anniversary.
A reunion picnic dinner was held in honor of the 50th anniversary July 30, before Freedom Academy 2011 began. Delegates from past years, as well as counselors, were invited to catch up and renew friendships. Delegates came from not only recent years, 2009 and 2010, but from as early in the program as the 1970s.
Utah Air National Guard Lt. Col. David Osborne, program director for Freedom Academy, said that Freedom Academy has been an experience that has changed him. Osborne said he has been involved with Freedom Academy for 17 years, and said he hopes to see the program continue.
"It's given me renewed hope in youth," said Osborne. "When you're around delegates that are talking about being doctors and changing the world, it's very refreshing and it's very satisfying to know that the future is in good hands."
Janessa Lamb, a senior at Valley High School in South Jordan, said she enjoyed the team-building exercises. "The reaction course was really difficult," she said. "I looked at some of the obstacles and wondered how we were going to do it. There were some that we didn't accomplish, but after we finished the course our counselor got us together to talk about what we could have done better."
Badell, deputy director of Freedom Academy, said he originally was involved in Freedom Academy as the pilot that flew in the Apache helicopter at the end of the week. He said that Freedom Academy influences the lives of students involved, which indirectly influences and benefits their high schools.
"It brings a lot to the individuals who attend," said Badell. "The perspective that they get on our freedoms, the perspective that they get on our military, especially our National Guardsmen, is a huge influence on their lives."
Enlisted members from both the Army and Air National Guard spend the week as counselors, getting the chance to get to know delegates and teach them more about freedom regarding military service.
Sgt. 1st Class Ross Greaves, from the 155th Maintenance Company, has participated as a counselor for seven years, all of his children having gone through the program.
"It's a great chance to work with kids," said Greaves. He also said the program is based on the good students that participate.
Army Sgt. Lorrinda Christensen said that the military members involved get just as much out of the program as the students do.
"[Guardsmen] get that warm fuzzy feeling knowing that you're being a good influence on other people, possibly steering them in the right direction," she said. "For me, it's the feeling I get after being with the kids, being a good influence and working with them."
Delegates took a tour of the state prison August 1, and many students said that was the highlight of the week.
Miranda Robison, a senior at American Heritage of South Jordan, said she enjoyed the prison tour the most. "I really wanted to see the prison. It was a good experience to learn more about the inmates. They are normal people, and we should forgive them."
A tour of the State Capitol was arranged Tuesday, during which the spokesperson for Governor Gary Herbert presented a proclamation that declared August 2 "Freedom Academy Day" in the state of Utah, in honor of the 50th anniversary of the program.
Badell said that he thinks that the high schools that send students to participate are benefitted indirectly through the delegates' participation.
"The perspective that they get on our freedoms, the perspective that [students] get on the military, especially our National Guardsmen, is a huge influence," said Badell. "Indirectly, the students go back to their schools with a broader perspective of the world and of our freedoms and the way we are able to maintain those freedoms, and I think that the school benefits because they get great ideas from each other and this program on how they can improve their school."
Activities were punctuated by speeches and discussions with local speakers like Mike Schlappi, a four-time Paralympic medalist; Vocalocity, a local a cappella vocal group; and former Senator Jake Garn, retired Utah Air National Guard member. Some students even had the opportunity to be on television with Channel 2 KUTV news personality Casey Scott.
"There is nothing else like this," said Badell. "It's important for the Utah National Guard to continue to support this. It's important for all those who are involved in any way to continue to support it, or else it is not going to continue to be as great as it has been."