SAN ANTONIO (AFNS) --
Twenty eight of the Air Force’s best and brightest youth gathered in South Texas June 17-21 as part of the 2019 Air Force Installation Military Youth of the Year Summit.
Some arrived with installation Military Youth of the Year wins, others with both installation and state titles, but all possessed strong qualities of leadership, teamwork, community service and a desire to be the best versions of themselves.
Through a partnership with the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, Air Force Youth Programs, managed by the Air Force Services Center, provide a variety of installation programs that help teens build on skills necessary to be resilient today and successful tomorrow.
Those programs then feed directly into the Air Force Military Youth of the Year, said Mona Hamilton, AFSVC child development and youth programs specialist and one of the organizers for this year’s summit.
Military Youth of the Year is a recognition program for individual teens that highlights those that have gone “above and beyond and embraced the spirit of service, academic success, healthy lifestyles … to really honor their achievements and their focus on trying to have a positive impact,” Hamilton said.
Although the annual summit is a platform to recognize the teens on their selection as an Air Force Installation Military Youth of the Year, it’s also a continuation of growth and source of motivation for those who attend.
This year’s summit included resiliency training, leadership opportunities, 2020 Teen Movement planning, educational and recreational field trips and a fitness challenge. The summit culminated with an awards luncheon with Maj. Gen. Brad Spacy, Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center commander, as guest speaker and presenter.
“We incorporate what staff do every day in our youth programs into the summit schedule,” said James Yracheta, AFSVC youth programs specialist. “We offer high-yield experiences where, to the kids, they’re just having fun, but we know there’s an education component that makes it relevant to real life experiences.”
For Anthony Polk, Military Youth of the Year for Kadena Air Base, Japan, his three years as part of Air Force Youth Programs has led to personal growth and connecting with who he wants to be.
“Leadership, making the community a better place by giving back, academic success … I really want to make a positive impact on the world,” Polk said.
His experiences with Air Force Youth Programs even led him to change his career path.
“I wanted to be a stockbroker because I knew they made good money and yes, they helped a few people,” Polk said. “But youth programs helped me realize, ‘Oh, I can be this person.’ Now I realize I’ll have more of an opportunity to help with a massive amount of people if I go into a (science, technology, engineering and math) field.
“In 10 years, I see myself making a renewable energy, essentially making a clean, reusable energy to help stop pollution,” Polk added.
“Our programs are designed to empower teens to look around their communities, at their peers and at the larger world to identify problems or areas where they can have a positive impact,” Hamilton said.
Using teamwork, leadership and critical thinking skills enhanced by programs and activities sponsored by youth programs, the teens can “create ways to move forward and truly make a difference for those around them,” she added.
Installation youth programs and Military Youth of the Year aren’t just about preparing teens for success as adults; it’s about helping them deal with the unique stresses of being part of military families as well.
Reflecting on his week at the summit, Evan Gill, Military Youth of the Year for Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, talked about the day he and fellow Youth of the Year teens visited the Alpha Warrior obstacle course at Retama Park in nearby Selma.
“Throughout the course we experienced pushing ourselves to our limits both physically and mentally,” he said.
“Kids these days, especially military kids, have many challenges they face every day, many obstacles in life. We were able to establish a connection to the Alpha Warrior course and persevere through it just the same as we do every day, living the military life,” he said.
No one knows what military kids deal with better than other military kids, said Jared Moore, a social and recreational specialist at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland.
“Youth programs give kids a safe space to talk about what they’re dealing with around adults and peers who understand,” Moore said.
“Most kids wouldn’t know or understand what it’s like to have a parent who is in the military,” Polk said, “especially when it comes to parents who go TDY or deploy, often in harm’s way.
“Most military kids do,” he added, “so you’re more able to open up because we all come from the same standpoint.”
Gill and Polk said they really appreciated the connections they’ve made with other Youth of the Year at the summit in just a few short days.
“We all supported each other and worked together in the same way we do in my youth center at Scott,” Gill said.
“(Being at the summit) has been a great experience,” he added, “and it has really been an honor to attend.”