Program Inspires DOD Students to Aim for Public Service
By Elaine Sanchez
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 9, 2012 Two Department of Defense Education Activity students were among the more than 100 student delegates from across the nation who stopped by the Pentagon today to hear from senior leaders and to gain insight on the inner workings of national defense.
Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter speaks with military mentors from the Senate Youth Program during a visit to the Pentagon, March 9, 2012. DOD photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Jane Rudy from Brussels American High School in Belgium and John Bonney from Vicenza High School in Italy traveled here as delegates to the 50th Annual U.S. Senate Youth Program. Their visit to the Pentagon was the culminating event of the program’s Washington Week, an educational experience for high school students interested in pursuing careers in public service.
This week has been “humbling and inspiring,” Rudy, daughter of Air Force Lt. Col. Martin Rudy and his wife, Peg, told American Forces Press Service today.
Each year, two student leaders from each state, the District of Columbia and DODEA spend a week in Washington to experience their national government in action. Student delegates meet with the president and hear major policy addresses by senators, cabinet members, officials from the Defense and State Departments and other federal agency directors.
“It’s important for us to encourage the future leaders of this country to go on to pursue careers, not only in public service … at the national level, but also at the state, local and community levels,” Rayne Guilford, program director for the Senate Youth Program, told American Forces Press Service today. “We hope this program inspires them to do so.”
Guilford said they strove to make the 50th year of this program a special one for the students. Throughout the week, the students met with President Barack Obama, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, Chief Justice John Roberts, NASA Administrator Charles F. Bolden Jr., and Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, who was a delegate in 1971 and the program’s first alumna to become a senator. Today, the students toured the Pentagon and met with defense officials, including Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter.
Rudy said the highlight of the week for her was the speakers, particularly the defense secretary. “[Secretary] Leon Panetta was one of the coolest people I’ve ever talked to -- not just at the program,” Rudy said. “I haven’t always considered joining the military necessarily, but after this week I’m considering that too.”
Bonney agreed. “I really enjoyed speaking with Leon Panetta,” said the son of Army Maj. Philip Bonney and his wife, Georgia, and an aspiring doctor of pediatric orthopedics. “It was great to hear him speak and get to know the man behind everything my dad is doing.”
Each year, the program seeks delegates with confidence, knowledge of current events and government, and with a desire to serve, Guilford said, noting delegates all serve in an appointed or elected student office back home. DODEA students possess these qualities in abundance, she added.
“They bring the overseas perspective,” Guilford said. “They come from countries across the world and have seen different forms of government; they can compare and contrast.”
They also bring an “incredible perspective of parents serving in the military,” she added, “and what service means on a deeper level.”
While Bonney and Rudy are accustomed to being surrounded by service members, some of the other students hadn’t met military members prior to this week, Guilford said. But this week they were up close and personal with the troops as military mentors escorted the students to hear speakers and visit museums and memorials throughout the city. Each year, mentors -- officers representing each service, including the Coast Guard –- travel here from installations across the nation.
Marine Corps Lt. Col. Peter Epton led this year’s 16 military mentors. “It’s a good way for the Department of Defense to put a face to the military in general,” he said of the program, “and a good way for the students to see us as individuals.”
Navy Lt. Janelle Kuroda, a military lawyer assigned to the Washington Navy Yard here, said she was excited to serve as a mentor this year, particularly since she’s a former delegate herself. Kuroda traveled here as a student delegate from Hawaii in 1997. “These students are so bright, so enthusiastic and real leaders,” she said. “You really see the passion they have. They all have a commitment to public service.
“I feel so fortunate to be a part of this program again,” she added.
Through the military mentors, Guilford noted, students learn what “service means at the most profound level.”
Guilford said the Defense Department is an integral part of the program’s success. “We want to thank the Department of Defense for 50 years of providing us with the most excellent officers who serve as mentors to our students, and we look forward to continuing this partnership for many years to come,” she said.
The Hearst Foundations provide transportation, hotel and meal expenses for the delegates. Additionally, each delegate is given a $5,000 college scholarship for undergraduate studies.