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Ryan Folded the Flag last night

September 7, 2008

It was the first home high school football game and I decided to make my annual appearance early since it was a pleasant night. I am not a regular attender but with my oldest daughter now a senior, I felt a certain obligation.

The field looked fantastically green and fresh compared to the end of the soccer season last spring and the white lines, yardage numbers and end zones had fresh paint. But our eyes were drawn to the 25 yard line where painted in red, white and blue ribbon was painted with the initials JRA.

On this Friday night our high school and community would remember Army Corporal Jonathan Ayers, killed in combat in Afghanistan with 8 other soldiers in July.

His funeral had been conducted a few months ago but tonight his former high school would honor his memory and his family.

At halftime the announcer asked that everyone be seated and remain seated and silent for the next few minutes. All motion ceased except for the Junior ROTC company arranging 10 chairs, a podium, an easel with a photos of young Jonathan, and a microphone at the 50 yard line.

Corporal Ayers was 24, a graduate of Shiloh High School some years back. He was in the Army Airborne but in high school he had been in the Air Force Junior ROTC because that is all our school has.

During his senior year, he had served as the commander of the group.

After the parents and family wre seated, a flag folding ceremony began. Slowly and methodically a squad of four youngsters in dress blue uniforms marched onto the field accompanied by a lone bagpiper.

Ryan was in charge of the folding. Ryan is a senior, a good friend of my daughter. That’s him pictured with my daughter Stephanie all decked out for the prom last spring.

Ryan has been in the JROTC since 9th grade and aspires to attend the US Air Force Academy next year.

Ryan wears his uniform with pride. He is on the drill team that spins and throws the M1 rifles. He is a leader and was given one of the night’s key tasks.

I am no expert in these matters, but as 2 cadets held the flag, Ryan was the person in the middle whose deft, white-gloved hands were responsible for smoothing each fold with both gentleness and authority.

Each fold of the flag represents a larger meaning, and as one of the cadets told the story with the microphone, the two cadets on the end would fold, with Ryan holding and supporting the flag.

Ryan folded the flag with dignity, honor and solemnity.

Ryan folded the flag and made sure each movement was both deliberate, crisp but that the flag was always smoothed and caressed gently.

The hushed, silent crowd watched as the last fold was made and the officers tucked in the ends forming the familiar tight, interlocking triangle of stars, when it was saluted once again.

Ryan folded the flag for our school, our community, our town and our country last night.

Ryan carried the flag to the current commander who cradled it in her arms against her chest. Ryan slowly gave the flag its final salute.

The commander walked to the family and dropped to one knee as she laid it out and into the mother’s arms expressing the gratitude of our nation for the family’s sacrifice.50041a

Ryan and the officers walked slowly in formation off the field while the principal hugged the family to express all of our feelings to the family. The crowd stood, eyes moist, and respectfully clapped while the announcer just said a simple “thank you.”

I tell this story not to express my own pride in our school, Ryan and our community but rather to illustrate one of my common themes in leadership development.

Most churches start too late.

The formation of a leader begins very early and organizations like the JROTC, the Scouts, honor societies and now even some fraternities and sororities are working with youngsters even before high school.

If the highschoolers can carry out an honor service with all the due ceremony and spirit of a presidential funeral, surely they can be leaders in our churches.

Start early. Select those able and willing to lead. Give them real responsibility. Real training. Real mentoring.

Sure, there will be times when they mess up. But don’t adults mess up as well? Adults know how to cover their mistakes better and with some smoothness, but other than that, I see no hindrance.

Cpl Jonathan Ayers
awarded the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, and Good Conduct medals.

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Posted by Dave Travis, Managing Director of Leadership Network

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