Samuel Jones, a Staff Sergeant (USAF) stationed at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base (AFB), started Operation Leadership Bootcamp (LBC) in Tucson, AZ in January 1998. In 1997, serving as a tutor in middle school, SSgt Jones noticed something that troubled him. Many of the kids were there for two very alarming reasons: 1) they had nowhere else to go and nothing else to do, and 2) their poor grades were a direct result of low self-esteem and a sense of not feeling that what they were doing in school and in their life was important. This led him to begin Operation LBC.
LBC is an after-school program that operates Monday through Friday, two hours daily. An LBC session lasts for six weeks and concludes with a class graduation attended by civic leaders, school board members, military officials, parents, and schoolmates. Each session enrolls 20-30 children, with five instructors. Instructors are volunteers from Davis-Monthan AFB and the students are enrolled by various means, from volunteering, school referrals, or parent recommendations.
The program gained local accolades after two years of existence, graduating more than 300 trainees, with 30 instructors from the Air Force involved. Currently, in 2001, six schools have LBC as an after-school program.
What makes this program so unique and worthwhile? How is it impacting Tucson? LBC is based on five core values: Respect, Discipline, Social Awareness, Physical Conditioning, and Teamwork. Activities range from visiting retirement communities, clothing drives, and participating in the National Christmas in April Program. It has proved beneficial for all involved with Tucson youth, the real winner.
An in-your-face approach is used to deal with the toughness of the streets that many youth possess. In order to prepare the students to face drugs, gangs, sex, or alcohol, the instructors create pressure-filled situations. They “break the kids down” and build them up with pride and self-esteem. They create an “us (instructors) against them (students)” environment to foster their need for each other and spirit of cooperation. The students become a part of a team and have a sense of belonging. By the end of the program there is a sense of accomplishment. The trainees are sent back into the community with a greater respect for themselves, pride, and a sense of giving that stays with them.
The results of LBC are immediate. The parents and teachers take notice because they are able to see the tangible difference in schoolwork, more respect for adults, and a higher respect for authority. The Operation Leadership Bootcamp identifies a need for youth to learn respect, belonging, and self-esteem and creates an environment to meet those needs.
The program is the only one of its kind in Arizona. Operation LBC operated without any military or school financial support; funding comes from donations of local businesses.