My parents sacrificed by allowing me to attend a military boarding school. They gave up a lot of time with me and they spent a lot of money on tuition and expenses. I still owe them an immeasurable debt and I still cannot fully appreciate this experience they gave me. I also owe a great debt to the wonderful people at my boarding school who went grey (or bald) helping me and thousands like me, to grow up in one of the most unique environments that a student can experience. During the first few days of this school year, I interviewed several of the military schools to better understand their processes and motivation for this all-important and difficult job.
I have also written a personal story about my experiences at military school from a cadet's perspective.
Personal Reflections on Military School Character Development
"Once the cadets start following the guideline of "do the right thing when nobody is looking", everything else in their lives starts to fall into place."
Most of the schools that I spoke with stated that Integrity is a major focus of their character development programs. Once the cadets start following the guideline of "do the right thing when nobody is looking", everything else in their lives starts to fall into place. This is often the hardest thing for teenagers but is something that will stick with them for the rest of their lives and help make them great people.
All Boys - Harlingen, Texas
The Commandant of Cadets (responsible for all cadet life outside of the classroom) Sergeant Major Ford Kinsley, USMC retired, has spent the last 17 years working with boys at Marine Military Academy. As Commandant, he provides the military part of military school. With his many years in the Marine Corps, he can definitely implement it. Today he says that the Marine Corps just built the foundation; his five kids taught him how to work with cadets. As a coach of many of his kids’ teams, as well as through scouting, he discovered how rewarding it is to work with teenagers.
"Yelling at them does not show them you care about them"
The cadets look like young Marines, but they are all kids who are growing up and need role models who care about them, who can set an example of hard work and serving others. Yelling at them does not show them you care about them and they need adults who care about them. His cadets have all the ability in the world and just need opportunity and backing to shine.
At Marine Military Academy, there is a culture of responsibility that is passed down from the adults to the cadet leadership and to the underclassmen. Cadets are taught about citizenship and do multiple community service projects.
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Carson Long Military Academy
Carson Long is special to me. One of my closest friends at military junior college attended this fine little school. Their faculty and staff care deeply about their students and that fact is evident when talking to their alumni. When I called up for the interview, the president remembered my friend who graduated in 1999. We were able to speak about him like we had all lived in the same small town the entire time. That kind of devotion, even after graduation, is a rare quality.
LTC Mark Morgan
Carson Long's President, LTC Mark Morgan, has been at Carson Long for twenty-two years. He shared that a great way to teach about character is through the brotherhood of the cadets. Brotherhood is the bond students gain with each other through shared experiences. Bringing the students together creates an environment where they can work together to do something more than they could do by themselves. They will help each other and hold each other accountable.
He shared a neat tradition that shows how that brotherhood follows outside of Carson Long and into life. A long time favorite off campus hangout is Mamma's Pizza. During Homecoming, the alumni pick up the tabs for all the cadets that eat there that day. These alumni get to give a treat to the cadets they once were and they all get to sit and talk about life at CLMA.
During a recent remodel of the dining hall, round tables replaced the old long tables, which changed the entire dynamic of meals. Everyone now sits at mixed tables with the faculty and staff. LTC Morgan spoke of a conversation he was having with a cadet at lunch. The cadet had a problem and the other cadets joined in to aid, leaving LTC Morgan smiling as the cadets helped their brother.
Colonel Carson Holman
I also had the opportunity to speak with Colonel Carson Holman, the President Emeritus of Carson Long Military Academy. Though he is retired, he still walks to campus and spends time with the cadets during lunch.
He spoke to me about one of the guiding principles of his school: Choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong. This is used in the West Point Cadet Prayer and said every day, not only at the United States Military Academy, but at Carson Long. Choosing the harder right means making a decision that makes life a little harder for you, in order to do the right thing instead of the easier choice that is really just a poor decision. This is something that all teenagers need to not only think about, but incorporate into their lives.
Before graduating at Carson Long, cadets give a Senior Oration. Col Holman enjoys that many of their graduates not only quote this in their speech, but explain what it means to them and their trials and tribulations of incorporating this into their lives.
"When Honor is Dead, the Man is Dead"
Colonel Armon Cioppa
Col Cioppa attended Carson Long and after retiring from the Army, joined the Board of Trustees. He gave a cadet's perspective on character development with an adults reflection. Both of his parents worked two jobs to give him the opportunity to attend CLMA. Opportunity was a word he frequently used while talking with me. He stated that "Carson Long was full of opportunities, what you did with them was up to you."
"He walked the talk and didn't put up with any of my excuses and rationalizations."
At Carson Long, Col Cioppa was expected to achieve by the faculty and staff and he was expected to fail some on the way to success. This is part of the learning process that helped him to succeed at Norwich University and then in his army career. "There is no instant gratification in life, it all takes work."
One of his favorite staff members was Col Holman, who still walks the halls on campus. "He walked the talk and didn't put up with any of my excuses and rationalizations". CMA is still holding to that standard, providing the structure boys need and thrive in.
All Boys - Waynesboro, Virginia
Out of all the schools that I have spoken with, Fishburne is unique for the strength of its Army Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (JROTC) Department and its seamless integration into daily life at school.
LTC Robert Hunt heads up the JROTC Department as the Senior Army Instructor (SAI). Each high school student is enrolled in JROTC and each year must participate in one of the eight military sports including the drill team, cyberpatriot, and raider team.
In his 15 years at Fishburne he has seen his program grow and this year they are being featured by the army for their celebration video of the 100th birthday of JROTC. LTC Hunt says that having a small, close-knit school allows every instructor to see every student each day, in and out of the classroom. Lunch time is a great time for students to talk with faculty and staff.
"Students learn values by seeing them in action, not just by hearing someone lecture."
Students learn values by seeing them in action, not just by hearing someone lecture. Having close connections with the students allows the faculty and staff to mentor each student and to help them grow.
Coed - Front Royal, Virginia
Col Frank Link, Commandant of Randolph-Macon Academy, says that his focus this year is Respect. He is leading his cadets into being persons of Character, as successes and grades will come with character.
He believes (rightfully so) that in order to earn respect, you must give respect. He shakes the hand of every student he passes and speaks with them. With every interaction he demonstrates respect to his cadets. R-MA is a large school by boarding military school standards, but he (just like everyone else there) knows each student. Once students start to respect others, they can start to respect themselves.
"Once students start to respect others, they can start to respect themselves."
All R-MA cadets are in a mentor group that is run by the faculty and staff. These groups meet tuesday mornings for thirty minutes, sit together at lunch, and informally meet throughout the week. Having a mentor on their team helps give the students someone else to look up to and to look to when they need help.
Coed - St. Petersburg, Florida
Commander Todd Wallingford is new to Admiral Farragut Academy, but not new to military schools. He understands the importance of structure for the students and uses it to focus on time management, organization, self discipline and ethics.
"They take the time to explain the whys and hows to their inquisitive students."
Like the other military schools, Admiral Farragut is not an "in your face" place. Instead they take the time to explain the whys and hows to their inquisitive students.
Cadets are learning by example how to succeed in college and these values carry them a long way. He holds all of the students to the Navy Standards and all high school students participate in JROTC.
Military schools are places where students are challenged in a 24-7 environment. The faculty and staff understand their cadets and are not only to push them, but to help them up when they fail. Teaching students to work hard, to learn from mistakes, and be people of character is a long process that these schools have been doing for a long time and will be doing for a long time to come. I hope that your family can join in this unique way of growing.