Articles Comments

52 Godly Men : Men of Today Teaching the Men of Tomorrow » Uncategorized » A Week of Wonder (And Marching)

A Week of Wonder (And Marching)

I must say, I had never heard of American Legion Boys State before my junior year of high school, and even when I was selected as a delegate, I didn’t really have any idea of what I was in for. In the two or three weeks leading up to the event, I heard mention of marching, and learning about government, and becoming governor, but mostly about marching. In other words, I had absolutely no idea what to expect; I simply packed everything I was supposed to and wore something nice to make a good first impression.

Sunday morning, Dad drove us up to Tennessee Tech University and when we arrived, I was met with a view of large, square brick buildings, organized streets, and wet pavement. It was raining. We entered into the gym amid the bustle of several hundred other teenagers getting settled. There was a short, slight, bespectacled older man in a red baseball cap giving helpful instructions such as, “Come inside, sit anywhere, we’ll be starting shortly.” After hearing this message thirty times, we began to predict to the second when it would be uttered next. It was kind of funny, but looking back it is even more ironic because of who he was. This non-descript gentleman later introduced himself as Colonel Mark Ochsenbein. More on him later.

The rest of the day passed quickly: unpacking, getting to know my roommate and learning to march. Oh yeah, we did a lot of that. Out of the fifty-four guys in Summitt City, which was my home for the week, at least eight or nine were a part of JROTC—a military officer training program—so by Saturday, our city knew how to march properly, stand at attention, stand at ease, perform a right or left face, and fall out. By Thursday, the majority of the boys in Summitt were probably contemplating a mutiny to keep from marching any more, but I really enjoyed it. You see, in marching, there is a moment when a large group of young men all make the exact same movement at the exact same time, and in that moment a person feels like screaming in triumph at the sky, or dancing wildly and unashamed, or killing a wild animal with their bare hands and eating the meat raw. If you don’t quite get it, that’s fine; but those who know don’t have to be told.

I gradually joined the rest of our fictional 51st state in falling into a daily routine. We got up moderately early (5:30 or 6:00) and headed to formation, where we would make sure everybody was where they were supposed to be and adjust to standing still for long periods of time. This formation happened four times daily: before chow, before chow, before chow, and before bed. Invariably, Colonel Ochsenbein would make an intentionally not-funny joke or two (usually poking fun at Middle or East Tennessee) and pause for a moment, at which point six hundred plus boys would all fake-laugh at once. It’s quite a sound. Also, invariably, several times during this period, the Colonel would also remind us in his bone-dry, no-nonsense voice, “Gentlemen, do not lock your knees. I do not want you passing out and hurting my blacktop.” This is actually a very good piece of advice—if a boy standing still for a while clenches his quadriceps, and in turn his knees, blood flow ceases throughout the body and, wham! He passes out on the ground. However, when you hear one sentence a good two hundred times during the week, it gets old. Because of the number of times it was repeated, I figured it would be easy to remember. However, nerves, dehydration, exhaustion, and heat can all be negative factors, and on Sunday, during the first formation of the week, a kid from another city locked his knees. Those who witnessed the event said he started wobbling and then just wiped out on his head. From then on—no joke—he was nicknamed “Scarface.”

Apart from the joyous routine of formation, each day was different. As the week passed, I learned about the various forms of federal, state, and local government. I also discovered more about the election process—from voting to campaigning to sweet-talking people into voting your way. The biggest thing I noticed is that people are lazy, and they will just as soon vote for the first five guys listed alphabetically as they will anyone else. So if you’re going to run for office at Boys State, change your last name to Abel or Adamson. Also, people will vote for an idea they can get behind, like “the first Independent governor ever” or “combining Boys State and Girls State for a week.” One of those has actually taken place. You guess which.

One of the biggest incidents that really stood out happened halfway through the week. It was raining and the Colonel was trying to keep six hundred plus boys occupied. Somebody, I don’t know who, asked him to talk about his military service. He said, “Yes, I was in the military.” After some prompting, though, he started dishing. Colonel Ochsenbein served in the U.S. military for twenty-two years. He was a graduate with top honors from sniper school—a program with a 10% graduation rate—and became a Green Beret. Later on, he joined Avation and Special Ops. He also told us a story about an airplane jump that happened somewhere in the U.S. (but he can’t say where it took place exactly), which ended with a bunch of Special Ops guys hitching rides back to base in old pickup trucks. And then he told us about a mission he had in Somalia that went wrong, one that involved a Black Hawk helicopter. One that was later turned into the movie Black Hawk Down. He was a part of that mission, and the soldier that died was a good friend of his. And as the Colonel told this story, six hundred plus boys all mentally said, “This dude is a boss.”

A great thing about Boys State is the number of famous people that are invited to come speak to the delegates. This year was no different; we were graced with the presence of a bunch of cool and interesting people. State Representative Ryan Williams was our first main speaker. He talked about Common Core, standardized testing, and personal privacy issues. He also let us know that “if I ever see a drone hovering in my backyard, I will shoot it!” We gave him a standing ovation. Governor Bill Haslam was another much-anticipated guest. He talked about how Tennessee has grown better and more worker-friendly in the last few years, but also about the issues that the state faces, such as budget cuts and public schooling controversies. He also discussed Common Core. It seems to me that standardized testing is a very hot issue these days; every politician who spoke at Boys State was asked about some sort of schooling issue. By Thursday everyone was sick of the whole debate.

On Wednesday, we witnessed the annual Tennessee Supreme Court case, which for my party (Johnsonians) was Andrew Spencer v. Norfold Southern Railway. A lot of the boys were starting to nod by the end of the tedious arguing about sentence syntax and whether or not a comma was significant in the jury’s ruling, but I acually found it mentally stimulating. Both lawyers were very skilled, but the railroad company had the much stronger case, and there is absolutely no legal precedent for sending a case to the State Supreme Court because of a slightly controversial jury wording anyway. On Thursday, we were treated to a special guest unrelated to politics. Three-time world CrossFit champion Rich Froning gave us his testimony, talked about fitness and training, and answered lots of questions about CrossFit and fitness in general. And then a smart-aleck delegate got up and asked the muscularly ripped speaker a completely unanticipated yet genius question, one that had been discussed to death: “What is your opinion on standardized testing?” Boys State gave the kid a standing ovation. Mr. Froning’s answer was priceless; “I assume that’s an inside joke? I have no opinion on it whatsoever.” It was beautiful.

The last two guest speakers at 2014 Boys State were certainly very important people. Former United States senator Lamar Alexander said some words at the closing ceremony, which were very sentimental, thought-provoking, and fitting for the occasion. However, the coolest speaker in my opinion was on Friday evening, when Tennessee Adjutant General Max Haston talked about being Adjutant General, about the Tennessee National Guard and pretty much about all things military. The coolest thing about the two-star general, though, was his ride: he showed up and landed in the middle of the university in a Black Hawk helicopter, with two camouflage-dressed soldiers preceding him. Words cannot describe the level of beast mode this man was at.

As you can see, Boys State was not just about government. Yes, that is a huge part of it, but there are a limitless number of opportunities available for the person who is willing to take advantage of them. And half the things that happened I didn’t even mention, such as being on the Summitt City football team (we went 4-0), learning CPR to the tune of “Staying Alive” (It has the perfect beat for the number of times per minute—one hundred—that you should pump your subject’s chest.), the pass and review on the turf football field which made everyone lose five pounds of sweat alone, and the Inaugural Ball. Actually, let me talk a little about that last one, since it’s pretty much the only time anyone saw a female all week.

Now, I am not even remotely involved in any sort of dating scene whatsoever, and have been single all my life, but even I could smell the testostrone getting thicker and thicker as the week went on. It was almost insane, the claustrophobic and trapped feeling that so many young men succumbed to as they desperately searched for a female or two to hopelessly gaze at, like the apples of Mount Olympus. So when the Ball—and several hundred young ladies—finally arrived, it resulted in four hours of a crazy party dance scene. It was actually supposed to be three hours, but the newly-formed senate wrote up a bill to elongate the dance by an hour, and it passed. See, we did create new legislature.

In closing, I don’t know of anything that would have been better for my education, resume, or outlook on life than the week of Boys State 2014. I had a huge number of unique opportunities, many of which I will most likely never, ever experience again. It was a blast and it was incredibly insightful. If any of you reading this ever get the amazing privilege of being selected as a delegate, don’t hesitate; say yes immediately. There are an innumerable number of avenues and job experiences that have opened up for me because of the connections and friendships that I made, and the information I gleaned will help guide me and mold me for the rest of my life. Just remember one thing: do not lock your knees.

Written by

Filed under: Uncategorized

2 Responses to "A Week of Wonder (And Marching)"

  1. Jess says:

    loved this article, David! great job! you’re such an amazing writer! 🙂

  2. Dad says:

    Super article. I could almost smell the dorm stench. Oh, wait, I did smell the dorm stench when I picked you up.

    Good overview of what it was like to experience a part of your week there.

Leave a Reply