In the beginning it’s all about change. It seems the younger we are, the more we are surrounded by change. Younger folks embrace change, and are comfortable with change. “Growing up” is indeed a definition of personal change. Situations change, but often we miss the opportunity to look at the change within us. Boy’s State changed my life. I did not recognize how much until I looked back. Let me explain…
I was privileged to accept the nomination from Post 1280 in Cassadaga, NY back in 1976. It was America’s Bicentennial year and I was riding high on a number of successes. I found it easy to be one of the “top dogs” in my high school. Everything was going great except for one thing: ask me what I was planning to do with my life and I would answer “I Dunno”.
Off to Boy’s State on a great big bus with about 45 boys I had never met before with my trombone in hand. I do recall the 4-hour ride to Morrisville (then called Morrisville Ag and Tech). I honestly don’t remember too much of the week itself as it flew by. I don’t recall my roommates specifically, but I do recall talking with some boys from the city and getting a new appreciation of how different their life was. I recall we had two Marines assigned to our county, and I still recall overfilling Hamilton Hall with about 1000 sweaty boys during the summer heat. It was a GREAT experience, and then we went home. It was over, but the changes in me were just starting.
With “Boy’s State” on my resume, the accolades got bigger, but what did I want to do? “I Dunno” still. College was next, so I went to SUNY Fredonia while working in a factory and living at home. Then the United States Air Force came knocking. They sent me these stupid post cards “What do you want to do?” – so I replied “I want to go into space” –thinking that would shut them up and they would leave me alone. Two days later they replied that first I needed to be a pilot, and after several tests and interviews they offered me a spot in USAF Undergraduate Pilot Training. I had never flown anything nor was flying any part of my family history. It was one of those critical crossroads in life. I had been reasonably sheltered in my small WNY village and this was decision time. My dad was a WWII vet, but we were not a big military family. My mother was convinced I would NOT like the military. BUT the experience of Boy’s State taught me not to fear the military lifestyle. I could handle the “Yessir’s and Nossir’s”, hospital corners, and maybe even hold my own among the really smart other pilot candidates. AND ULTIMATELY, if I passed this up, I did not want to be 60 years old, sitting in a rocking chair on my front porch wondering “What could have been” if I had taken this opportunity.
In Jan 1984 I entered the USAF. In Oct 2006 I retired from the USAF as a Lieutenant Colonel with my Command Pilot Wings. I have done things others can only dream of. I have been the Aircraft Commander of a B-52 and flown it below the walls of canyons in NM. I have flown faster than the speed of sound more times than I can count as a T-38 Instructor Pilot. I have commanded the Air Force ROTC unit at Rochester Institute of Technology. But even more significantly I have been privileged to work with some of the best and brightest men and women the United States has to offer. Without the Boy’s State experience, I do not think I would have joined the Air Force. I owe Boy’s State a LOT, as it was one of those many critical pieces that changed, developed, and enabled me to live a dream I was not able to even dream as a young man.
Fast forward 44 years…
And now it is all about the Return on Investment.
I have been involved with Boy’s State as a staff member for about 10 years now, with the past three years as County Counselor (CC). I have to give back to the program. I must provide a “return on the investment” of the parents, teachers, and old Legionnaires from Post 1280 that sent me as a boy.
I am privileged now to work with city counselors, Marines, and staff now at Boy’s State. During my week with my 100 or so boys I am always talking about how important it is for them to make a return on the investment many have made in them. Parents, teachers, Legionnaires, friends, the list goes on and on. That return is a MORAL imperative. You cannot like what you see in the mirror if you fail to do that.
Let me be absolutely clear: the return I speak of DOES NOT require wearing a military uniform. Boy’s State is NOT about military indoctrination, and should NEVER be. That return may, as in my case wear a military uniform, BUT the return could be just as valid wearing a police uniform, a physician’s coat, a teacher’s tie, a factory workers uniform, farmers boots, or a Boy Scout leaders uniform. We each have the debt to those upon whose shoulders we have been lifted. We MUST return their investment in us! We MUST find ways to lift others.
I have been amazed during my life to cross paths with so many from the program. I have been impressed when talking to various leaders I have encountered how many are alumni. From the Girl’s State program in Louisiana in the 1940’s to the New York program throughout several years, they spent their lives giving back the return. Look around at the leaders in your community and ask them if they have heard of the Boy’s State (or Girl’s State) programs. I think you will be surprised to see how many are alumni of one of the best “investment” programs in the country. And on a personal note, THANK YOU to the Legionnaires of Post 1280, many of whom are now of Post Everlasting, that made the investment in me. I hope to continue to provide a Return on Investment.
Boy’s Stater, 1976