Veterans’ Affairs: Leadership Boot Camp

The question “if not me, then who?” is central to a new program developed by the Travis Manion Foundation.

In the Al Anbar Province of Iraq, 1st Lieutenant Travis Manion was killed when his group was attacked while searching a suspected insurgent’s home.

Inspired by his service his family created the Travis Manion Foundation in his honor.

The group plays an improvisation game called “five.”

“Travis has always been an inspiration to me so this is just part of how I’m giving back,” said US Navy Veteran Paul Fischer, who trained with Travis.

Paul is giving back by mentoring students in a program launching this month in two Philadelphia high schools.

The program is called “Character Does Matter.” It’s an 8-week long after school activity.

“Character Does Matter is a program that exists to connect veterans and families of the fallen with youth, specifically high school students,” said program manager Molly Boyle. “We have people who were Navy Seal officers, we have Marine Corp officers and we also have Air Force, Coast Guard.”

Twelve veterans will teach the students to become future leaders by asking students the question Travis Manion asked himself before leaving for his second and last tour: “If not me, then who?”

The training takes the form of various self-reflective exercises, like improvisation and community service projects. The veterans helped outline the program at a leadership Boot Camp.

The veterans will lead some exercises and ask students to lead.

“I think a lot of the leadership lessons I learned [in the Navy] are great to pass on,” Fischer explained. “Me passing those on makes me a better leader and I think develops future leaders of America.”

According to a 2009 study by the Editorial Projects in Education research center, Philadelphia ranked the lowest among large cities when it came to high school graduation. Lack of education, partnered with criminal history, and poor physical health means fewer young people are able to join the armed forces. The armed forces are often viewed as a viable option for low-income families in lieu of college.

Smaller groups assigned to schools develop new approaches to teaching leadership.

The two schools that will be part of the mentorship program are St. Joseph’s Prep and Cristo Rey in North Philadelphia.

“I think students from St. Joe’s Prep are coming in with families with academic histories, with professional success,” said Susie Cook, an English Teacher at St. Joseph’s.

“[Cristo Rey students] come from Philadelphia’s hungriest sector, surrounded by cycles of poverty,” Cook explained, acknowledging difficulties facing the new mentors. “But they’re still called to give back. Those students and our students are very much similar in that way.”

– Text, images and video by Nicholas Cutrona.

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