Military Mentors Have a Lifelong Impact on USSYP Delegates

The United States Department of Defense has supported  the United States Senate Youth Program from the program’s inception by lending extraordinarily accomplished military officers in service as mentors to the student delegates for Washington Week.  In fact this represents one of the longest standing partnerships  between the United States military and a national youth organization, and the officers are given the formal title of Military Mentors when they accept their mission as elite guides, chaperones and role models.

Each year, a total of 17 exemplary officers are chosen from the Military branches, U.S. Coast Guard,  and the National Guard, through a highly competitive nomination package and candidate review process. The Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs generally distributes nomination instructions in October, with the selection announcement in January.  Approximately fifteen officers will serve as leaders for the individual student groups of 5 – 6 students; two additional officers will serve as the Senior and the Assistant Senior Mentors, leadership roles within the Mentor team who also work closely with the program staff.  The number of female and male officers selected reflects the male to female ratio of students in each USSYP class year.

Military Mentors relay their life and leadership experiences from the United States Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard and National Guard as they generously share their time with the delegates. The Mentors’ understanding of protocol and comportment is essential as they guide the young student leaders through the intensive schedule of high-level meetings and events that make up Washington Week.  The Military Mentors’ overall exemplification of integrity and excellence has an enormous impact on the students.

The outstanding USSYP 2014 Military Mentor Team

More than 5,000 USSYP alumni have had the incredible opportunity to be inspired and mentored by these selectively chosen officers.  In a Washington Week filled with speakers at the highest levels of government, including the President, a Supreme Court Justice, Cabinet Secretaries and an Ambassador, the Military Mentors are often cited as having had an equally profound personal impact on these young delegates.

We have taken a look back just a few years to compile heartfelt words from delegate essays about Washington Week.  The delegates learn so much from USSYP’s Military Mentors: decorum and protocol, leadership, life skills, the inspiration to overcome obstacles, possible new career paths, and the joy of being a part of a small welcoming group in the midst of a big city and many new faces.

Reflection and Gratitude From Past USSYP Delegates

Washington Week was the defining experience of my life, for many reasons I was not fully expecting.  I was moved by the amazing achievements many of my peers had already accomplished, and was motivated by their words to push myself further. In addition, the Military Mentors undoubtedly became role models for many of the delegates, certainly myself, with their service, friendship, and life stories.  – Andrew Guy, PA – 2008

The most unexpected part of the trip was our interaction with the Military Mentors.  Having had minimal exposure to the men and women who serve our country, I was awestruck by their dignity, their patriotism, and their discipline.  Most of all, though, I was surprised by their affability and their warmth.  They are what made my trip to D.C. a trip of a lifetime. – Iris Lee, AZ – 2008

As the week came to a close on Friday night, I had the privilege of watching the flag folding ceremony with immense honor.  While watching the Military Mentors fold the flag that symbolizes our nation, my heart was filled with pride that I have been so blessed to live in the United States.  I knew in that moment that the week I had just experienced would stay in my memory for the rest of my life.  I would take the lessons I learned over the course of the week and apply them to my own life, and my future political ambitions. – Seth Bostrom, SC – 2009

Coming in, I did not totally understand what the Military Mentors were, but now that I’m back home I realize they were one of the best parts of the trip.  We were able to see incredibly accomplished individuals who choose to serve their nation through military service.  I think that I was not alone in my amazement of the nuclear physicists, lawyers, and more that served as our Mentors, guides, advisors, and – most importantly – our friends.  The experience would have been entirely different without them, and they made Washington Week even more wonderful. – John Angle, TN – 2009

Another irreplaceable experience was delegate interactions with the Military Mentors. My Mentor, Major Todd Randolph, USAF, had a profound effect on the purpose of my life.  His story about escaping the destructive influences of inner city Baltimore helped me find the issue in the United States that I am going to strive to correct for the rest of my life: education.  While Major Randolph helped me find my hidden passion for education reform, the Military Mentors allowed us to see a side of our servicemen that we usually don’t see.  Whether it was discussing movies with Major Peter Upton, USMC, or dancing with the Military Mentors on the last evening, getting a chance to informally interact with these professional, esteemed people was a great experience in itself. – Darryl Long, FL – 2010 

We had already realized our Military Mentor Major Archie Bates, USA, was an extraordinary man; however, the words that he was about to state would cement him in my memory forever.  As he was talking about not being “that guy” and doing the proper thing, he shifted and told us the motto that he lives his life by: “Seek impact, not impression. Impression is what happens when someone looks at your resume and assumes how you live your life. Impact is when a person sees how you live your life, and they are not surprised when they read your resume.”  I had never heard such a practical, real, non-flowery way to live one’s life.  Major Bates was a prime example of his motto because he had not told us he graduated from West Point, had a Ph.D., taught at West Point, or fought to defend our nation.  I hung on to those words, and I am still striving to make impact, not impression. – Daniel Johnson, GA – 2012

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta was passionate and refreshingly candid when he spoke with us.  The Secretary said he  felt that the brave men and women who serve in our armed forces today are comparable to “the greatest generation.”  After interacting with our Military Mentors, I must agree.  They exemplified the honor, courage, and intelligence that make our military and our nation great. I was inspired to always put duty ahead of personal gain, and value common sense and cooperation no matter what the cost. – John Channing Ruff, GA –2012

The distinguished public servants who took the time to come and speak with our group were not the only people who made USSYP an unforgettable and life-changing experience.  The 17 Military Mentors who guided us through the week, especially my mentor Major Justin Woodruff, USMC, had an incredible impact on me.  My personal and group conversations with Major Woodruff, a Marine helicopter pilot and Naval Academy graduate who has seen combat multiple times in Afghanistan and Iraq, inspired me and helped solidify my commitment to public service.  His words and humble, servant-leader attitude galvanized my desire to someday serve my country, perhaps in the same way he has.  Other Military Mentors also went out of their way to facilitate meaningful conversations over meals, tell stories of their life experiences, and bring unique perspective to the speakers we heard and places we visited. – Thomas Krasnican, AK – 2013

The Military Mentors implanted wisdom that will impact the way I look at everyday life. To be mentored by individuals as decorated and knowledgeable as they were is incredible to me.  From the Military Mentors, I resolved to be proactive and passionate; to never doubt my full potential, because I can accomplish incredible things if only I try. – Gina Elmore, SD – 2014

The Military Mentors really made Washington Week what it was for me. Yes, the Military Mentors served to make sure none of us were left behind in one of the tunnels connecting the Senate office buildings, but they also served as an adult perspective into the whole week. Listening to political leaders that I had seen on Yahoo! News every day for the past year was awe-inspiring, even if I did not agree with their political views. However, the Military Mentors helped me decipher between “this politician is famous” and “this person said something that I strongly disagree with.”  The Military Mentors made every delegate feel welcome at every meal and social situation.  Captain Neville Welch, USMC, in particular, often provided me with the most thought provoking ideas and commentary, most of which I could never receive in school.  – Jana Kelnhofer, GA – 2014

The fantastic Military Mentors illustrated the nobility of public service while also sharing inspirational experience and advice. My Military Mentor, Captain Neville Welch, USMC, imparted a wise motto to us. “Life is all about the dash. When people see the newspaper once you are no longer here, the two dates on which you were born and on which you died do not matter.  Rather, it is the dash which concerns how you will be remembered.”  This motto emphasizes living life to its fullest extent and leaving no life without an impact. It is up to you to build your own legacy. – Stanley Marciniak III, PA – 2014

Apart from the passionate delegates, our Military Mentors were an essential component to the USSYP journey.  Prior to USSYP, I had never interacted with military men or women, and then as I progressively befriended my Military Mentor, I realized how extraordinary they are. Without a doubt, I believe they are the best role models America can have. I will never forget my Mentor, Lieutenant Meghan Booze, USAF.  She was the youngest of all the Mentors, but her personality is unforgettable. She is empowering, intelligent, and driven.  Our Military Mentors were an essential part of USSYP week. – Xiomara Salazar, PA – 2014

I also had a chance to have as Military Mentors those who I have always thought of as our nation’s everyday heroes: military personnel. As I spoke to these individuals, I was able to hear, firsthand, the sacrifices they have had to make to protect our country. Many have families, young children, and occupations they must immediately leave behind to spend years in a foreign country. Each Military Mentor is a model of our nation’s bravest and most selfless citizens. I am so honored to have been their mentee. Not only are they courageous and ready to defend America at any moment, each live by an immutable set of morals and have an indomitable concept of “right”. My six-member group’s own Military Mentor, Air Force Lieutenant Meghan Booze, was always there to offer us advice, support, and a listening ear. Each day, she would share stories about her life and offer her perspective and knowledge as a female pilot serving overseas. After just a week, the five other girls and I were no longer the delegates who had been randomly assigned together in the same group; we, along with one of the military’s finest role models as our Mentor, had become a family. – Yingxian Guo, CT – 2014

The Military Mentors were absolutely wonderful people.  My group’s Military Mentor, LCDR Eugene McGuiness, USCG, was a constant encouragement to me. Some of the stories about his personal life and his work in the Coast Guard were captivating.  He was levelheaded, intelligent, and hilarious.  I also enjoyed the company of several other mentors, including LT Jeffery Janaro, USCG, and LCDR Danielle Hicks, USN. After hearing some of these individuals’ qualifications, I was further impressed. Both the delegates and the Military Mentors inspired me while I was in Washington, and I hope that I can apply what I learned from them here at home. – Nathan Lilly, LA – 2014

During Washington Week groups of delegates were led by members of the U.S. Armed Forces who served as Military Mentors.  My Military Mentor, Major Edward Badhi of the United States Army, taught me in a short time an enormous amount about public service.  Freedom is not free and if it were not for those who serve our country in uniform I would never have had the life I’ve been blessed with. – Reilly McGreen, RI – 2014

The Military Mentors truly inspired me. Each and every one of them has given so much to our country, and it was an honor to meet them. My Military Mentor, Captain Ainsley Allen, USAF, graduated in the top ten academically, militarily, and athletically from her class at the Air Force Academy.  She now works as the commander of the Aerospace Fuels Laboratory in Mildenhall, UK. – Tessa Slagle, CO – 2014

My fantastic military mentor Captain Corey Chance, USAF, is the epitome of a role model without which the week would have been incomplete. Being surrounded with such an exemplar group of Military Mentors made the USSYP truly unique for all the right reasons. – Mitchell Wahlmeier, WA – 2014