Called to Lead

Rear Admiral J. Scott Burhoe is the 10th President of Fork Union Military Academy, a college preparatory, Christian school for young men using the best aspects of the all-volunteer military.  He was selected for this position after retiring from the United States Coast Guard, where he served on active duty for over 34 years.  His last assignment was as the 39th Superintendent of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy.  He reported to this position from Coast Guard Headquarters where he served as Assistant Commandant for Governmental and Public Affairs.  He and his wife Betsy live in Careby Hall, Fork Union, VA, which is a home built by Dr. Hatcher, the founder of the school.  He spends any spare time running, swimming, biking and visiting his three grandchildren.

Fork Union Military Academy was visited recently by The Association of Boarding Schools (TABS) of which we are a member.  I told Director of Member Relations, Andy Hirt, that I would like to see military boarding schools more prominently represented on boards, committees, and in the marketing material, so he offered the opportunity to participate in this blog.  I’ve visited many boarding schools, but my experience in “running” boarding schools is while serving in the United States Coast Guard and here at Fork Union.

All military schools are not the same, just as all boarding schools are not the same.  We all have a distinct culture and unique differences.  Our vision at Fork Union is to be an aspirational school like the nation’s five federal military academies.  Not too long ago, a survey listed being an officer in the military as one of the most highly respected professions in America, so it doesn’t surprise me to see record numbers of high school seniors applying to attend the Service Academies.

Young people don’t have to wait for college to get the benefit of a military academy education; they can thrive in body, mind, and spirit by attending a military high school (or middle school).

At a recent staff meeting, we were discussing our ever-improving retention and re-enrollment numbers, and one of my senior administrators opined that today’s young people are much more involved in the school selection process, unlike 20-30 years ago when parents decided [without input] what was best for their children.  This puts more pressure on all schools, and particularly schools like ours where the rewards don’t appear so immediate; yet much research suggests that the ability to defer immediate gratification leads to a more successful future.

As I examine the landscape of American culture, a crisis is looming.  It is a crisis of education, a crisis of culture, and a crisis of faith.  There must be people, united by a common purpose, who prepare young people to do the hard work of leading others.  President Roosevelt describes this as being “the man who is actually in the arena.”

There must be schools that give young people what they need, which doesn’t always match what they want.  This is the only way we will maintain this nation’s freedom and our system of democracy.  There must be young people, willing to sacrifice a little fun today, for a brighter future in which they are prepared to lead others with character.

Military academies, particularly those with the priority of preparing young people for college; grounded by strong faith in God; and with an emphasis on physical fitness, are an answer to solving a looming crisis that results from self-gratification and the quest to collect worldly possessions rather than serving the common good.

Throughout time there has always been a core group of young people who were destined to lead others…perhaps even called to lead.  For those, there must be a place free of distractions and excesses where they can focus on timeless values, academic preparation, and physical stamina; a place where they learn to communicate and build trust with each other; a place that builds responsibility and place with well supervised risk-taking.

Last week, Olympic gold medal swimmer Josh Davis, spoke to our cadets, and defined freedom as the ability to do the right thing, wherever you are, regardless of what anyone around you is doing.

While it may sound incongruous, military schools teach freedom, even when it appears to the casual observer as though the students are little less free.

Those who are called to lead others, or have a passion for leading others (and are willing to learn), should consider college-preparatory (100% of our students are accepted to college), Christian (faith-based), military schools.  Life at our schools is not easy, in fact the experience is a real challenge, but as can be seen in the success of our graduates, is clearly worth it.

On the other hand, for those who are destined to follow, any school may do.

For more information about military schools, visit

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