Labor of Love Leaves Legacy of Leadership

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Matt Murphy
  • 161st Air Refueling Wing
Each summer for the last five years, an extraordinary transformation takes place in the pines near Flagstaff, Arizona. Over two hundred young men and women, known as cadets in the Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corp attend a Summer Leadership School at an Arizona National Guard training facility called Camp Navajo.

For seven days, the AFJROTC cadets who hail from a dozen different schools throughout Arizona focus on academics, drill and ceremony, sports, and group leadership. They are taught by volunteer leaders from the Arizona Air National Guard, senior ROTC cadets from Arizona State University, University of Arizona and Emery Riddle University, and AFJROTC commanders.

This intense course of instruction provides an opportunity for selected cadets to exercise their leadership and management skills in the camps' daily operation and maintenance.  Cadets participate in a daily physical training regiment, undergo rigorous scrutiny during daily inspections of their personal areas and dress/grooming, and receive classroom instruction on leadership topics. 

The cadet flights receive instruction in military drill and compete against other flights in a drill competition and intramural sporting events. Cadets tackle the challenge of the obstacle course and rock wall and learn to navigate through the woods utilizing map and compass.  They receive instruction in fire craft and survival, and develop their critical thinking and collaborative skills through the use of innovative group leadership problems. 

This program that inspires team work, self esteem, and core leadership skills doesn't happen by itself. While she is humble about taking credit for making it come together over the last five years, Master Sgt. Holly Boudro, retention officer for the 161st Air Refueling Wing, should take much of the credit for developing a labor of love that leaves a legacy of leadership for these young men and women. "AFJROTC has no eligibility requirements. Anyone can join," says Sergeant Boudro. "It is an outlet for children to stay on the straight and narrow and lay a foundation to a successful, career and life."

Sergeant Boudro will be the first to tell you she is not alone in her love for this program. Volunteer paramedics and several EMTs look forward to coming back along with many of her peers from the 161 ARW.

One returning volunteer is Technical Sgt. Karl Schaller, 161 FSS food services manager, he led the way to making sure 250 people had three meals a day during the school. That is 5,250 meals over the course of the program.

"Getting the kids inspired, teaching leadership, exposure to the profession is so worth it," said Sergeant Schaller. "I've been doing this for three years and it helps the cadets understand that the Air Force really goes above and beyond how they feed their troops. Some of the meals the cadets enjoyed included fried chicken and Salisbury steak. He also explained that cadets are served an extra helping of discipline. Outside of the curriculum and events, when cadets are in line to eat, they must read and study their "Warrior Knowledge Book."

The book contains an honor code, Air Force Core Values, standards of accountability and other critical information to be successful at school.

Sergeant Boudro describes this experience in terms of "getting the right people in the right places." She speaks highly of her colleague Master Sgt. Gilbert Alcaraz who serves as a military technical instructor during the weeklong event. "Alcaraz spent five years as a T.I. at Lackland. We are fortunate to have someone with his experience serving at the school," said Sergeant Boudro. "It really helps the cadets get a taste of the true Air Force experience."

Much of Sergeant Boudro's career in the Air Force centered on recruiting and she knew she needed to be involved in this experience tailored for future recruits. She is inspired by the dedication of her fellow volunteers, but finds the real benefit in watching the cadets.

The cadets are challenged on a variety of activities and skill levels. "They don't give up. They are so entrenched in the program and they all want to succeed and it's not easy," said Sergeant Boudro. She also describes how throughout the school there are always the little moments when you know the time, effort and sacrifice are worth it. Some of the cadets celebrated their birthdays during the school. Giving up a party with friends and family to experience this leadership program is no easy task. "We had over a dozen kids who had birthdays during the school. They received military challenge coins and we sang to them. You get a lump in your throat. Everything is exciting," said Sergeant Boudro.

With over 20 volunteers managing 250 cadets and making this experience happen, you won't hear Sergeant Boudro or Schaller or any other participants complain about the countless hours of preparation, lack of sleep, and hard work to run the school. Instead they go back year after year and help a new generation of young people learn leadership skills they will have for the rest of their lives.