The future of Oklahoma leadership recently stepped into combat boots for a morning of training exercises at Fort Sill.
The 51 members of the 2019 Youth Leadership Oklahoma class arrived in the early morning hours at Fort Sill for physical training and other exercises. It was a major awakening for many of the youth — all of whom are entering their senior year of high school — who now have a greater appreciation of the military.
“We really want them to get the experience of military life and understanding what these young men and women go through to serve our country,” said Elizabeth Logan, adult and youth coordinator for Youth Leadership Oklahoma. “We want them to glean the leadership skills the military offers and get a taste of that. We know it’s a brief touch on the extensive full military experience and career, but some of them might be interested in this. It might spark that in them and give them a better appreciation of military services.”
The 2019 class includes two students from MacArthur High School — a rarity in the extremely exclusive program, which receives hundreds of applications each year. Makinley Kennedy, one of two MHS students in the program, told the Lawton Constitution that it’s a real testament to the hard work of the faculty and staff at the school.
“It’s a nice thing for our faculty and staff there,” she said. “It shows they’ve done well with their students and are grooming them to be great leaders in Oklahoma one day.”
Kennedy said she was looking forward to the physical training aspect of the Fort Sill visit. Two of her sisters have previously participated in Youth Leadership Oklahoma and had intense training. After going through the rigorous workout that involved exercise, long marching and even some bad weather, she feels she has the best story to tell now.
“I wanted to see how mine would be like and I have the best because I did it all in the rain,” Kennedy said. “I really wanted to see what it would be like and I like how my respect has grown immensely for those who serve our country.”
Kennedy was actually surprised by the exercise regimen. It wasn’t nearly as intense as she expected it to be. She was also surprised by how intense the drill sergeants were toward her and her fellow students. Even though they were toned down compared to how they treat real Army recruits, she felt intimidated.
“The yelling, I was not expecting,” Kennedy said. “I knew they would yell, but not to that degree. But obviously they know what needs to be done to have the military to serve our country.”
Kennedy still cherished her day at Fort Sill and her ongoing time as part of the program. She hoped to build new relationships with other members that she can utilize later in life. It’s also given her a greater appreciation of the state in which she lives.
“I really hope I’ve built relationships that will carry on throughout my life with people I can call whenever I need them,” Kennedy said. “I have an appreciation for my state and devotion, where I can work for the betterment of our communities across the state.”
Fellow MacArthur student Andrew Celedon knew what he was getting into when he learned of the Fort Sill visit as part of Youth Leadership Oklahoma. His father is a retired executive officer of the field artillery. So he was briefed on how he would be treated by the drill sergeants when he arrived — or so he thought.
“We were out here at 5:30 a.m. and it was daunting, I will tell you that,” Celedon said. “I was so tired. He told me we’d do some PT and some obstacle course-like activities. He told me I was going to get yelled at a lot. He was absolutely right. I went in here, initially thinking, I’ve seen the military, I’ve grown up around it, I know what to expect. I did not know what to expect. The yelling was absolutely intense.”
Celedon applied for Youth Leadership Oklahoma after his activities director encouraged him to read more about the program. An avid member of multiple extracurricular activities at MacArthur High, including the Key Club, Celedon saw the program as an opportunity to better himself as a person and to expand his network of friends and contacts. He was thrilled when he was notified he had made the program and has been looking forward to it ever since.
“We’ve been doing a lot of activities to show what leadership is like, especially in Oklahoma, and that’s important,” he said. “We have to have a little more respect for what the state has to offer. That’s what Youth Leadership Oklahoma does — they try to emphasize the aspect of leadership and incorporate it with Oklahoma pride.”
Duncan High School student Lincoln Fitts was among the Youth Leadership Oklahoma students participating in the activities. He enjoyed the team-building exercises of the previous day, during which students participated in white water rafting in Oklahoma City. So that day came as a complete shock when that fun turned into hard work.
“I’ve never seen anything like Fort Sill,” Fitts said. “I’ve been on post before, but I’ve never been a part of any training. It was pretty tough. It started raining and while we were running and they just kept us going with it.”
Fitts said his primary desire for joining the program was from the encouragement of his mother and sister, who also participated three years ago. He wanted to make new friends and contacts with other leaders from across the state. But he learned a little something about himself in the process.
“You have to fight through everything, like the mental breakdown of running in the rain,” he said. “If your head is hurting, you have to get over it and power through it.”
The program also included visiting numerous locations across the state to learn about different aspects of being a leader in Oklahoma. They discussed military issues at Fort Sill, criminal justice and juvenile justice at the Tecumseh Juvenile Detention Center, Indian sovereignty, arts, health care and much more. Each place at which they stop features a new aspect of leadership and knowledge that the students must learn to become the future leaders of this state.
“We learn about the issues facing the state, but also the amazing things Oklahoma has to offer,” Logan said. “We want to get a well-rounded experience for them, so that they can get a taste of everything. Since they’re from all over the state, we want them to take back this experience to their communities. They’re already leaders in their community, but this will help them take it up a notch and find new avenues where they can make an impact.”