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'Flawless' NCLS draws 5,400 attendees
Aron Ralston speaks to an audience in the Air Force Academy's Arnold Hall Theater during the National Character and Leadership Symposium Feb. 24, 2012. Ralston, the subject of the film "127 Hours," amputated his own right arm to save his life after a mountain-climbing accident in Utah in 2003. (U.S. Air Force photo/Mike Kaplan)
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'Flawless' NCLS draws 5,400 attendees

Posted 2/29/2012   Updated 3/2/2012 Email story   Print story


by Amber Baillie
Academy Spirit staff writer

2/29/2012 - U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- The 19th-annual National Character and Leadership Symposium wowed attendees last week with exceptional speakers, a full schedule of events and smooth transportation to and from sessions.

Nearly 5,400 cadets, faculty and visitors attended keynote sessions in Arnold and Fairchild halls as buses traveled to those locations every 20 minutes.

"In terms of execution, I think that it was the smoothest NCLS that we've had," said Cadet 1st Class Jim Evans of Cadet Squadron 12. "Permanent party members who've been at the Academy for 10- plus years and graduates who've been here for five-plus years said that it was the most visibly flawless execution that we've had."

Evans and Lt. Col. Dave Keller, program director at the Academy's Center for Character and Leadership Development, said that a large part of the event's success was due to excellent planning and execution by the cadets.

"The cadet ownership of the execution of the program was stellar, as each took ownership by writing scripts, escorting guests, running command posts and transportation," Keller said. "It made me realize how incredibly gifted our students are."

The symposium consisted of 55 panelists and speakers who each received a plaque on behalf of the cadet wing and faculty at the Academy. Speakers shared inspirational stories and personal examples as a way to motivate and encourage cadets on leadership and character development.

"A lot of visitors were blown away by the Academy, the caliber of speakers and magnitude of the event," Evans said. "We had a great team of speakers this year and they did a great job by sharing their amazing stories and talking about opportunities for cadets."

Keynote speaker Aron Ralston said that he was honored to speak at the symposium. Ralston, an American mountain climber who amputated his right arm in 2003 after he was trapped by a boulder, said that the way in which cadets serve our country to protect the lives of others makes them true heroes.

"It's a tremendous honor to think that I have done something to be standing on this stage and to hopefully have something worth sharing about leadership, character or perhaps even ethical decision-making," Ralston said. "I feel humbled to be in your presence and to aspire that I might have one thing that you walk out of here with that might touch your lives."

In addition to a live video feed from Afghanistan, two new events took place. One was a two- hour interactive workshop that followed the "Biology of Leadership" presentation on the personality traits that make a charismatic and authoritative leader. The other was an interactive volleyball game offered for cadets after the Paralympian Panel.

"Through the different sessions we tried, we learned great lessons on doing more of them in the future," Keller said.

Another change included the way in which reflection period was carried out. The period took place at noon on Feb. 24 in Mitchell Hall and attempted to draw out cadets through a conversational approach.

"We tried to optimize the way we did the reflection period by including more discussion," Evans said. "We are always working to incorporate cadet feedback into our planning and changes that we make."

Cadet 1st Class Rick Cassleman of Cadet Squadron 17 said that he has enjoyed NCLS every year.

"From the total experience of being here four years, it's pretty amazing to see first responders of Sept. 11 to CIA agents all the way to Ross Perot," Cassleman said. "This is my fourth time going to NCLS and I think the fact that I'm still enjoying it and that it's kept me not only entertained, but inspired, is pretty good."

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