As twilight faded into a rainy night, we circled the Iwo Jima memorial in a charter bus with Georgia, Florida and New Mexico 4-H members.
The 4-H Citizenship Washington Focus program assistant read an account of Iwo Jima shared by James Bradley, the son of one of the men depicted on the statue, as we stared at the memorial in silence.
“ …(There) are generals who stand in front of this statue and talk about the glory of war. You guys need to know that most of the boys in Iwo Jima were seventeen, eighteen, and nineteen years old.”
Boys. Boys like those on our bus—at least half these kids are 17 or older.
Old enough to have fought in World War II; old enough to lie under the stones in the adjacent Arlington National Cemetery.
The next night we spent time at the Pentagon Memorial, where the youngest victim on the plane was the same age as our Georgia delegates—only 3 years old on September 11, 2001.
This national 4-H program provided us a new perspective to the lessons on citizenship and leadership we explored all week through bill writing workshops, congressional meetings, Washington tours and other hands on learning.
Senator Saxby Chambliss told our two youth delegates, MaKenzy McCord of Newton County and AJ Howard of Stephens County, about his first public speaking experience in Georgia 4-H.
Tess Hammock, UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences congressional agricultural fellow for Representative Austin Scott, gave us a personal tour of the Capitol and talked about how her 4-H experience led to this 12-week paid internship.
Aides for Representatives Doug Collins and Paul Broun treated us to Georgia peanuts and Coke while discussing the issues their offices are working on currently, including the agricultural appropriations bill which was on the floor this week.
We watched a dramatic presentation of American military history on Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall during Twilight Tattoo.
Collegiate program assistants led discussion as we visited memorials for Washington, World War II, Vietnam, Lincoln, the Korean War, Martin Luther King, Jr., Jefferson, FDR, Iwo Jima and the Pentagon.
We visited Mount Vernon and the National Cathedral.
Youth wrote bills, held a mock congressional session and explored how to create community action plans around local issues.
Our delegation saw a concert at the Kennedy Center and explored the Smithsonian museums for American history, natural history and air and science.
No, we didn’t sleep much the last 8 days at the National 4-H Youth Conference Center in Chevy Chase, Maryland.
In fact, both teens are asleep in the back seat as I write this on our way home. Volunteer leader Doug Kimble is braving the traffic.
I hope our delegates are as thankful as I am for volunteers like my dad—half the states at the conference couldn’t even find a male chaperone.
Nearly 300 youth are headed back to seven states from Florida to New Mexico to Nebraska this weekend, prepared to serve our clubs, communities, country and world as better citizens and leaders.
Know a youth who could benefit from this program in the next few years? It’s never too early to start saving and get more involved in 4-H. E-mail me at email@example.com.
Bring citizenship to life, the way the story of a veteran brought one memorial to life for us:
“Suddenly the monument wasn’t just a big old piece of metal with a flag sticking out of the top. It came to life before our eyes with the heartfelt words of a son who did indeed have a father who was a hero. Maybe not a hero in his own eyes, but a hero nonetheless.”
Terri Kimble Fullerton is a Newton County 4-H Agent through UGA Cooperative Extension. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.