ARLINGTON, Va. – Service members, including Air Force Maj. Jason Park, chief of safety with the Wisconsin Air National Guard’s 128th Air Refueling Wing, from across the different military branches of service recently had the opportunity to participate in the U.S. Senate Youth Program in the District of Columbia.
The USSYP is a weeklong educational experience for exemplary high school seniors and juniors who are interested in one day pursuing careers in public service.
“These kids are not your average high school kids,” said Park. “The hope is that these elite students, who are already interested in working for the federal government, will be even more interested through the opportunity they get to meet and talk with senior members of the government and military.”
Park said it was impressive to see the well roundedness of the students – or delegates, as they are referred to in the program.
“Seeing them interacting with senators from their states and other high-ranking individuals in government was a neat experience,” he said. “When they go home at night, they are reading up on the current events that are taking place both around the world and within the U.S. and the level of knowledge that they have was so impressive.”
Park said during the week he would brief his group of delegates daily on the upcoming schedule of events for the day and ensure they had everything they would need. While he chaperoned them throughout each day, he would also answer any questions they may have had, as well as foster dialogue between them and senior-ranking government officials he and his delegates encountered.
“One of the best experiences was the visit to the Supreme Court where the delegates were able to spend some time with Justice Antonin Scalia,” he said. “They had some great questions for him and he was able to give them some great insight from his many years of service on the Supreme Court.”
The delegates were also afforded the opportunity to meet President Barack Obama a day after his meeting with the leader of Ukraine, which allowed the delegates a deeper insight into events currently unfolding, Park said.
Additionally, Park said the delegates were given the opportunity to meet with senior military members as well.
“We also met with the vice chief of the National Guard, (Air Force Lt.) Gen. Joseph Lengyel, which was exciting for me as a member of the Air National Guard,” Park said. “He was able to talk to the kids about the opportunity they could have one day serving their nation in politics and at the same time as a member of the military in the National Guard.”
Park said he found out about the opportunity to be a military mentor in the program through his unit’s public affairs office.
“Through an application process, the program selects one National Guard member each year to participate in the program,” he said. “Additionally, members are selected from the other services as well, where they apply through their respective branches.”
Park encouraged other Guard members to apply to be a mentor in the future.
“You are exposed to so many senior officials in a private setting and are given the chance to ask questions – it’s just not an opportunity that the average person can say they had,” he said.
“It’s definitely a one-in-a-lifetime opportunity to share these experiences with these incredible students from around the U.S.,” Park said, “and I am thankful that I was given the opportunity and I would recommend other members of the Guard to apply as well in the future.”