Jennifer Clarke  – For The Record

Irons sharpens iron.

Hunter Long is an “average teenager,” by his own admission, but his recent nomination for a trip to the National Leadership Conference presented by Envision in Washington, D.C. speaks to a young man who is committed to a path of honor and excellence. Envision partners with several youth leadership organizations and is an “experiential education organization dedicated to enabling students of all ages to explore their interests and gain learning experiences beyond the classroom,” according to their website, www.envisionexperience.com.

Long attends Bridge City High School and is a member of the class of 2018. He is involved in extra-curricular tennis through the school. He is also involved in his youth group and church, First Assembly of God, Bridge City. Long’s favorite subject is history, he calls himself “a history geek,” and he has had an interest in the military, specifically the Marine Corps, from a young age.

At fourteen, Long joined Venture Crew 2086, JNCA Marine Corps Division, under the leadership of Lt. Col. Dru Crochet, his commanding officer. Venture Crew, which began in 2008, is available to youth 14-21, and offers an opportunity to get experience and exposure to military training. The youth participate in a type of basic training, a boot camp, for a week in Beauregard, La. They learn movements and land navigation. Additionally, the group goes on “ops” throughout the year together, says Long. The members of Venture Crew 2086 also serve their community by supporting veterans through their local VFW, and Veteran’s Day fundraisers such as the poppies which will be sold in the area on November 7 and 8, 2015. Venture Crew 2086 serves as Color Guard for LC-M football games as well.

Long was nominated to attend the National Youth Leadership Forum: National Security – Diplomacy, Intelligence & Defense in Washington, D.C. from September 22 through 27, 2015.  The NYLF Security forum is “a six-day program that prepares high school students for careers in defense, intelligence, and the diplomatic corps.” Nominations are made anonymously, but Long stood out as a candidate for this honor because he “is a natural leader, very insightful, with an intense interest in domestic and foreign affairs.” 

When he arrived at the conference, he found some students with interests similar to his, but “everyone came from different walks of life,” Long notes. Envision has several programs intended for students and according to their site, they are “dedicated to enabling students to discover their career and life interests, and to providing them with the skills, resources and experiences they need to successfully achieve their goals.” The conference focused on “the many disciplines that help keep this country – and its citizens – safe,” and students were provided an opportunity to “get an in-depth look at how the United States plans for peace and prepares for crisis.”

He recognizes it was his leadership skills, problem solving ability, and willingness to take charge when needed that likely made him a candidate for the nomination, but he believes he gained skills and knowledge from the conference that will benefit him greatly, “I learned how government actually works, how they must work together.” Long and his group had to simulate building an executive branch, over which he presided as president. They performed a voting simulation and filled his cabinet. “We had to fight a war on drugs. It is so much harder than we think it is,” he notes.

Some of the highlights of his trip to D.C. included a guest speaker who shared information on the Wounded Warrior Project. “I really learned a lot about the price of freedom,” Long says, “it is a great cost. We need to cherish what we have, our rights and freedoms, and honor those who gave the ultimate price.” When he arrived at the conference, he found himself with 24 strangers, “but by the end, they became my family,” and he hopes to get to see them again. 

The key note speaker was Chuck Hagle, the former Secretary of Defense and Senator from Nebraska, but the experience that stands out the most to Long was his trip to Arlington National Cemetery where he witnessed the Changing of the Guard. He also spent time exploring D.C. with two people he grew close to, Paige McGrath and William Strojek. The experience was “exceedingly important to me,” says Long. He learned valuable skills that he will apply in his life, “I took away more leadership skills and understanding.” Long says that he learned better ways of solving problems and working together. “Learn to trust people, share information, involve other people,” he suggests, “don’t just do things for yourself and not others.”

Long has learned the value of forging strong relationships, “It is not blood that makes you family,” Long notes. He built close friendships with people in attendance at the conference, and before that, he built lasting relationships in Venture Crew 2086, “my crew are my brothers and family.” He is also grateful for all the leadership he received, “I am thankful for my advisors at Venture Crew who were wonderful role models sacrificing their time and keeping their commitment to be there for us.”

He has his sights set on the military, and has dedicated his time and energy to developing skills to reach his long term goals. The objective in nominating a student for this type of program is for “him to explore those interests, give him the confidence to use his talent and ability, and spur him to set high goals and achieve them.” Long intends to utilize his experience, knowledge, and skills toward achieving those high goals. He is solidly focused on his future, a future he has been working toward since he was very young. And as for the rest of his generation, Hunter believes they have a great deal to offer, he suggests, “a little faith is beneficial.”

Long further asserts that events such as this conference are a reminder that it “is still possible to have faith in this generation.” He got to experience and learn about real struggles. “We got to witness the ultimate price of freedom,” he says. There were 309 people in attendance, and Long suggests, “We are capable. There were many future leaders there. We can be successful and build a great and wonderful nation.”