BYU Air Force ROTC Program Cadets Prepare for the Future by Looking to the Past

PROVO, Utah – Nov 08, 2019 – The past, present, and future don’t often collide, but they certainly did during the BYU Air Force ROTC’s senior capstone event: a six-day staff ride to Washington, DC; Gettysburg, Pennsylvania; and other historic sites that allowed senior cadets to connect with and learn from the United States’ leaders of the past and the present.

“When I came to the Air Force ROTC program here at BYU, I wanted to give the students an experience in leadership through military history,” says Col. Frederick Thaden, BYU Marriott’s aerospace studies program department chair. “The cadets studied leaders of the past and decisions that those leaders had to make, and they also evaluated leadership situations Civil War leaders were in and how they reacted.” 

At Gettysburg, the cadets were given the opportunity to understand past soldiers’ sacrifice. “One morning a few of us in the group went on a run around the battlefield,” says cadet Logan Clark, a manufacturing engineering major from Fort Collins, Colorado. “The morning was cool, and the fog was settling on the battlefield. Seeing the beautiful landscape as the sun was rising, I struggled to imagine what took place there and all the lives that were lost. This experience motivated me to make sure their deaths were not in vain as I strive to keep this country free and united.” 

Each cadet analyzed the leadership decisions of past leaders when they researched a specific leader from the Civil War. While at Gettysburg, each cadet presented their leader’s story in first person. “On the battlefields, we asked each of the cadets to essentially become one of those Civil War leaders,” Thaden notes.

Cadet Sydney Clark, an exercise science major from Rapid City, South Dakota, who will enter the United States Air Force as a second lieutenant following graduation from BYU this coming April, did her presentation on Union Army General George Meade. “During my research, I learned that General Meade was appointed to his position as commander just three days before the start of the Battle of Gettysburg,” she says. “He was required to step up as a leader and prepare for the battle in a short period of time. He was clear with his intent and trusted his subordinates to make decisions that supported his plan. In the end, General Meade was successful in leading his men to fend off General Robert E. Lee and the Confederate Army.” 

In addition to studying military leaders from the past, the cadets also learned about leadership from current leaders. During their time at the Pentagon, the cadets met with Shon J. Manasco, the assistant secretary of the Air Force for manpower and reserve affairs, and Lt. Gen. Brian T. Kelly, the Air Force’s deputy chief of staff for manpower, personnel, and services. The cadets also met with Mitt Romney, United States senator for Utah. 

“While meeting with Mr. Manasco and Lt. Gen. Kelly, I got to see how high-ranking officials have a job to do to help support the mission of keeping the United States safe,” says cadet Stephen Bohn, a sociology major from Conway, Arkansas, who plans to serve in the Air Force as a force support officer. “I realize that I may never be at the level of seniority and leadership that they are at, but I would say that the majority of people who serve never get to that point. That doesn’t mean that they are any less critical to overall mission success. Everyone’s job in the military is important and essential.”  

Thaden hopes to continue preparing cadets for their futures by teaching them leadership principles during senior capstone events like this one. “My goal is to make the staff ride a sustainable event,” says Thaden. “Every year, I’d like to take the cadets somewhere with a significant connection to the military where we can talk about leadership and why it’s important to be an ethical leader in our United States Air Force.” 

Air Force ROTC Detachment 855 at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
Air Force ROTC Detachment 855 at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Photo courtesy of Erin Ricks.
Detachment 855 met with Mitt Romney, United States senator, in Washington, DC.
Detachment 855 met with Mitt Romney, United States senator, in Washington, DC. Photo courtesy of Erin Ricks.
Detachment 855 faculty at the Washington Monument.
Col. Thaden, far right, and other Detachment 855 faculty at the Washington Monument. Photo courtesy of Erin Ricks.

Media Contact: Chad Little (801) 422-1512
Writer: Natalia Green