Boys Nation Day 6: Alumni night

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On Day 6 of Boys Nation, the senators traveled to The American Legion Washington, D.C., office where the president and vice president were sworn into office.

Boys Nation president Jonathan Hess was sworn into office by American Legion Past National Commander H.F. "Sparky" Gierke III, a former Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for Armed Forces. Hess provided a few remarks after taking the oath of office.

"I would like to thank The American Legion members for putting their lives at stake for the good of our country – an organization that not only works for the betterment of veterans, but for the betterment of the entire nation," Hess said. "The American Legion makes the Boys State and Boys Nation programs possible for America’s youth, teaching not only about government but also about leadership. Not only about politics but about citizenship. And not only about respect but about service."

After Hess’ inauguration, Boys Nation vice president Joseph Aumuller was sworn into office by American Legion Past National Commander Alan Lance, a retired judge of the U.S. Court of Veterans Appeals. Aumuller too provided inauguration remarks.

"Thank you very much gentleman for your votes; I am very excited to work with you all," Aumuller said. "I think we still have a lot of great things to accomplish at Boys Nation, and I would like to thank The American Legion for putting this (program) on."

The young men also heard D.C. staff speak of their respective division’s role in handling issues concerning America’s veterans and active-duty servicemembers. A few divisions introduced were Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation, Economic, Legislative and National Security.

"Every division in this organization (The American Legion) in Washington, D.C., is part of our lobbying arm," said Peter Gaytan, executive director of the Legion’s Washington office. "We provide the federal voice within Washington on issues that are relevant to members of this organization, and we as staff are lucky enough to carry that voice to Capitol Hill, the VA (Department of Veterans Affairs), DoD (Department of Defense), all the way to the White House. But that voice is only provided by the strength of our membership."

Many senators left the Legion’s Washington office with a better understanding of the organization’s mission, lobbying efforts and advocacy for veterans.

"I knew that there were the individual Legion posts, but I didn’t know that there was a consolidated legislative aspect to the Legion," said Alex Sargent from Ovideo, Fla. "It was cool to see that The American Legion isn’t just a social organization, but it actually lobbies on behalf of veterans all across the United States."

The senators left the Legion office to tour the Supreme Court. While there, they had the honor of listening to Gen. William Suter, Clerk of the U. S Supreme Court, provide an overview of the Court Chamber. While sharing how a judge is appointed, who attends the court sessions and what cases the Supreme Court accepts, Suter kept the young men laughing with his good humor.

Following the Supreme Court, a few senators had a special opportunity to converse with a World War II veteran. At 96 years old, Ed Reed was in town from Maine, visiting the World War II Memorial for the first time with his granddaughter and great-granddaughter. Reed enlisted in the Air Force at age 29, flew B-17s and became a part of what is known as the "Mighty Eight."

"I was in the Eighth Air Force flying out of England," Reed said. "I flew 59 missions. One time, we got hit over Denmark, and I had to fly on one engine all the way back to England."

His granddaughter, Brianna Thomas, emphasized that he had an angel on his side to survive all those missions. And in regards to his service, she said it "makes me feel very proud."

To end the night, four Boys Nation alumni spoke to the senators about their experience with the program, how it impacted their lives and where they are now. The four men included 1995 Kansas alum Joel Leftwich, republican deputy staff director for the Senate Agriculture Committee; 1997 Georgia alum Michael Lang, a federal prosecutor with the United States Department of Justice, criminal division; 1997 North Dakota alum Dan Webber, vice president for the digital public affairs team at Edelman; and 2005 New Jersey alum Mike Bzozowski, a graduate student studying law at Catholic University in Washington, D.C.

Dan Webber noticed how a multitude of experiences with Boys Nation never change. "Giving a speech on this senate stage is still intimidating," he said. "Days start at 5 a.m. and end at midnight; ice cream at every meal; the efforts that The American Legion puts into this program every single year; (Legion Past National Commander) Bob Turners contagious spirit and attitude; and the excitement and awe of being with so many amazing young men."

A few of the alumnus also shared that they were voted down when running for senate office, which instilled confidence in the young men when they encountered the same trial over the past few days.

"One of the common things that I enjoyed was the fact that all of these individuals went on to be successful and confident within their own occupation, because at Boys Nation they were fairly unspectacular – some of them only got their own votes when running for an office position," said Tianshan Fullop from Bend, Ore. "I thought that was interesting because I kind of follow that same track, so it gives me a gleam of hope. Overall, I enjoyed hearing how Boys Nation is woven into the fabric of their lives."

Additionally, Donald Wiegner from Middletown, Del., said, "These young men that they met in one week went to their weddings and even drove 60 miles to provide support when needed. It’s amazing how this group of (98) guys will be friends that you can always count on, and you only know them for a week."

Today the young men visit their respective state senator or representative.