High school senior Ryan Domson (far left) pushes (left to right) high school freshman Carlos Diaz, Cadet 1st Class Lindsey Byrd and high school junior Heather Sherrill across the lake in a canoeing exercise to demonstrate teamwork. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Sarah Chambers)
High school students participated in whitewater rafting, mountain biking, hiking, paintballing, intramural sports and a ropes course to exercise character development. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Sarah Chambers)
6/22/2012 - U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- The Center for Character and Leadership Development hosted its first Character Camp June 10-15 to allow high school athletes the opportunity to exercise character development and leadership virtues with cadets, through difficult outdoor activities and group exercises.
Eleven high school students from the Classical Academy, Pinnacle Charter School and Hayden High School participated in whitewater rafting, mountain biking, hiking, paintballing, intramural sports and a ropes course to build character and practice teamwork.
"The second day was the biggest day for all of us, when we did the ropes course," said Heather Nereson, a junior at Hayden High School. "They had this 55-foot pole called the pamper puller that we had to climb, stand on and then jump off of while trying to hit a ball."
Cadet 1st Class Lindsey Byrd, a pod leader for the camp, said everyone put in their best effort during the activity.
"At first, everyone was scared but 30 minutes later every single camper went up it," Byrd said. "Our goal was to support them, make sure they understood the leadership virtues and were able to recognize how to use them in different situations."
The virtues demonstrated were respect for human dignity, humility, courage, excellence, attention to detail and accountability.
Nereson said camp leaders challenged high school participants to commit to a virtue and consciously practice it at their school.
"I'm going to practice courage because I'm strong against partying and drinking,"
Nereson said. "I will try to have the courage to influence my friends by saying things like, 'Hey, that's not a good idea,' and I've learned how to do that respectively.'"
Savannah Williams, a senior at Hayden High School chose two virtues to work on.
"I chose attention to detail and respect for human dignity because I've had a lot of friends go through hard stuff and didn't know it while it happened," Williams said. "I need to pay more attention and help them if I can."
This year the camp was based on student athletes. Lt. Col. Bryan Huntley, director of the camp, said local high school coaches were asked to nominate athletes who demonstrated character.
"The camp definitely exceeded my expectations," Huntley said. "I had a very high expectation for this camp but I was surprised at the depth and level we got to. We were able to establish a trusting environment where the students felt comfortable interacting with cadets within a couple of days. By watching the campers work through the virtues that we talked about, whether it was courage or attention to detail, it exceeded my expectations."
Huntley said character development should start before college.
"Originally this was something we started talking about a couple of years ago because we wanted community involvement at the high school level," Huntley said. "I think we have a unique role here that requires us to have a deep understanding of how we develop character and keeping that to ourselves isn't good for the greater community."
Byrd said each cadet pod leader was assigned to three or four campers, expected to participate in activities with the students and act as a role model to them.
"It was really cool to learn about what the cadets have done because it's really inspiring," Williams said. "I learned how to be a better leader and a better person and that you have to be a better person before you can be a better leader."
Byrd said she saw a transformation in the students from the camp.
"I enjoyed seeing their development," Byrd said. "It's great to see how they went from being more introverted and shy and then through these events, have become more extroverted. It's been fantastic seeing the camaraderie here."
Huntley said the camp was also an important lesson for cadets.
"By putting those cadets in that role, it really elevates their understanding of what it takes to develop a leader of character," Huntley said. "That was really important in this camp and to get them to a place where they were demonstrating humility and being great role models."
Huntley said the students' coaches will continue the lessons learned from Character Camp.
"The real benefit is that the coaches will meet with the students every week for a month on their targeted virtue," Huntley said. "We felt it was important that it wasn't just a great five- day experience and that they could expand well beyond what happened here this week."
Cadet 1st Class Christian Rengan, another pod leader for the camp, said the camp was a great opportunity to serve the community.
"People tend to think the whole reason you go to the Academy is to be an officer and it's not," Rengan said. "It's about developing leaders of character and it's a commitment to the community too, to develop the civilian side and citizenship outside of the Academy as well as the inside."
Rengan said he would volunteer for the camp again in a heartbeat.
"I love the idea of this and it doesn't have to be sports-related," Rengan said. "It can expand everywhere else, in any area because there is a leader in all of us."