Utah Army and Air Guard host 47th annual Freedom Academy

  • Published
  • By Maj. Krista DeAngelis and Staff Sgt. Christiana Elieson
  • 151 ARW/PA
Not too many summer camps offer opportunities for high school students to rappel from a 34-foot tower, drive a humvee, tour a state prison and listen to nationally acclaimed motivational speakers all in the same week. But at the Utah National Guard's annual Freedom Academy, that's just the tip of the iceberg.

For the past 47 years, a select group of Utah high school students have been given the unique opportunity to participate in Freedom Academy, a leadership camp designed for student body officers and leaders. This year, 95 students or "delegates" took part in the academy located at Camp Williams and hosted by members of the Utah Air and Army National Guard from August 3 to 8.

"The purpose of Freedom Academy is to promote the ideals of freedom, teach them [students] about freedom...and let them know that freedom comes at a cost and at a price - and we're here to solidify that," said Lt. Col. David Osborne, Freedom Academy director, who has also been involved in the academy for 13 years.

Each year, Freedom Academy highlights a variety of topics surrounding the theme of "freedom," including freedom of the press, the court system and what happens when a person gives up their freedom. The first day of this year's camp began with a tour of the state prison and a panel of inmates who discussed what it was like to live without freedom.

"I thought the prison tour was a very humbling experience," said Jeff Rigby, a senior at Clearfield High School. "It made me start wondering what it might be like to live in the prison and not be able to see your family or have any freedom...the thing that most went through my mind was that I really don't want to be locked up here."

Morjn Hicks from Woods Cross High School echoed Rigby's attitude.

"I definitely would not like to be there, it's definitely the pits. It made me realize how much freedom I have and really appreciate what I actually have," she said.

The second day gave the delegates a bit different perspective of freedom as they toured the state capitol building and had a chance to speak with the president of the Utah State Senate, John Valentine. During their visit, Senator Valentine invited all of the student body presidents to sit at the House Gallery table and asked them to answer the question, "What is your dream?"

"To help people who are usually overlooked because of their social status or lifestyle," said one student body president. Another voiced, "Leave a legacy at my school so people can say the 'class of 2009' was a good one." While others had more personal goals such as "finish high school and become a fireman," and "go to college and be a sports doctor."

In addition to the tours, the delegates also participated in a variety of activities at the Army and Air Guard bases which gave them a little taste of military life. During their visit to the Utah ANG base, delegates learned about some of the various Air Force missions, including firefighting, flying and explosive ordinance disposal. Students also toured a KC-135 Stratotanker where Lt Col. Bruce Weaver, a pilot at the 151st Air Refueling Wing, explained the wing's operational mission.

"It's great to bring the kids out and explain what we do and get an interest in what we do," he said. "I think it helps give them motivation and direction in their lives."

Throughout the rest of the week, the delegates toured the local KUTV news station and sat in on a hearing at the Federal Courthouse. On Thursday, the students were bussed out to several training locations at Camp Williams where they experienced firsthand what it was like to be a Soldier.

Megan O'Dell from American Fork High School was slightly nervous as she looked down the length of the airborne jump tower that she had the opportunity to zipline down.

"I'm kind of nervous but excited because I have never jumped from this high before," she said.

Other students had a little different view once they mustered up the courage to jump.

"It was awesome, I loved it," said Patricia Magleby of Mountain View High School. "After the initial shock of the height and everything, it was way fun...I loved it."

As students got to fire off M-16s, leap from the jump tower and rappel off a 34-foot wall, the excitement level was high as everyone returned back to their rooms. The night concluded with a talent show where students flaunted their dancing, singing, music playing and acting skills in front of each other.

"The talent show is always an awesome night because these delegates are full of talent," said Colonel Osborne. "Everything from music to vocal...they are just full of talent."

As the week came to a halt, the camp counselors from the Army and Air Guard had a chance to reflect on their experience.

"This is an awesome experience to have the chance to be an ambassador as a military individual and to teach the youth about the freedoms we live and experience every day," said Master Sgt. David Neal of the Utah ANG. "Every state could benefit from this type of program."

"As they learn about their freedoms the delegates change," Sergeant Neal continued. "My favorite part is seeing the transformation from the starting day to the finishing day, because you watch people who are shy and reserved change and gain more confidence. That, to me, is worth every minute I spend out here."

And it's true for the students.

"Freedom Academy has really helped me out," said Jimmy La-Rue, a student from South Sevier High School. "It's easily one of the top three conferences I've attended."