CMA takes a holistic approach to leadership
Nov. 10, 2023
Numerous schools teach leadership in the classroom. Culver Military Academy goes much deeper with a holistic approach to leadership development by giving cadets the responsibility of guiding and teaching younger students about the Culver Values of truth, duty, honor and service.
They are lessons cadets live and breathe daily from the moment they arrive at the boarding school in northern Indiana. CMA’s mission is to “educate, nurture, cultivate, train and inspire cadets to become responsible citizens and servant leaders of character.”
Cadets start by learning the basics of what they need to know and do to pass personal and room inspections, to adjust to living away from home and family, to manage their time appropriately and learn to follow older students. Cadets as they mature are given greater levels of responsibility, including supervisory responsibility for the performance and training of younger cadets. By the time a cadet graduates, he will have held at least eight leadership positions and experienced more than 1,500 hours of hands-on leadership experience.
“We’re able to give each student an experience that will immerse them in leadership – we’re teaching them a theory and then we’re making them live it – that’s not something most schools can do,” said Col. Mike Squires, CMA’s commandant of cadets.
That can include learning and teaching others to load and fire the M3 105-millimiter howitzer cannon in the proper sequence, to drive the M35 2-ton and M37 ¾ ton trucks with manual transmissions, to conduct the proper 15-count manual of arms in unison with an M14 rifle, to ride a horse with precision during the pass in review and to perform the proper customs and courtesies when our nation’s colors are present.
While Culver is run with a military structure, the primary goal isn’t to produce men who plan a career in the military. About 10 percent of CMA’s graduates pursue a career in the military. CMA uses a military structure of leadership because it is in the school’s DNA. The school was started as a military school in 1894 by founder Henry Harrison Culver, who wanted to prepare young men for lives of purpose and impact.
Squires said the military structure remains an ideal method of teaching leadership because it is “an approachable, understandable way for a teenage boy to recognize how he fits into a community and how he can contribute to that community. A clear chain of command makes a lot of sense to a 14-year-old boy.”
The military system is an effective way to teach the meaning of commitment, responsibility, discipline and hard work. The leadership values and principles the cadets learn through the military structure are used in the classroom, on the athletic fields and through other extracurricular activities as part of Culver’s method of developing and nurturing the whole individual – mind, spirit and body.
“What’s important to me is whether we are producing a leader of character when they walk through that Iron Gate at graduation. That’s the goal, whether they go into finance, pharmaceuticals, health care or the military, I want to make sure we’re delivering a leader of character,” Squires said.
Boys arriving at CMA are placed in one of three different battalions: Artillery, Infantry and Squadron, each with three units. Cadet leaders experience ownership by being held accountable for everything their unit does or fails to do.
“For me, the first step in being a good leader is being a good follower,” said John Afari-Aikins ’24 (Carmel, Indiana), who as artillery battalion adjutant fills in wherever the battalion commander needs help, overseeing about 170 cadets. “From there, you learn to reflect on yourself, your day, your week and your month and see where you did well and where you fell short and set goals for how you can improve.”
Eamon Seeley ’24 (Lafayette, Indiana), infantry battalion operations officer, works closely with the operations sergeants of Company A, B and C to make sure each unit is being trained appropriately, everyone’s up to standard and that new cadets are being treated well and are adjusting to life at Culver.
“I'm working with three different units that all have their own way of doing things. It’s my job to make sure everyone’s always on the same page,” he said. “If our battalion is doing well, all the units are going to be competing with each other, but also working with each other and pushing each other up instead of just focusing on their own company. Everyone's pushing each other, working together.”
Seeley said that when he joined Infantry Company B as a freshman it was consistently finishing in last place in unit competitions. He said his class was determined to change that and it now regularly competes for first place and usually finishes in the upper tier.
“We established a climate where we can succeed and where we can perform better,” he said. “Now having gathered all that wisdom in the first three years and being able to share it and leave an impact on my friends and the people who are still going to be here after I graduate is pretty special.”
Bosco Fox ’24 (Mexico City, Mexico) had never ridden a horse when he arrived at Culver four years ago. He was intimidated by horses at first because of their size. He overcame that, though, and spent his first year at school caring for an older classmate’s horse. He began riding horses his second year.
“I got to be super close with the horses because you get to know the horses,” he said.
Now as the squadron stable officer, he plans parades and helps determine which horse each cadet will ride for each event. He recently planned the Gignilliat Ride, honoring Gen. Leigh R. Gignilliat, founder of the Black Horse Troop.
“For parades and long events like these, we need to take care of the horses and make sure they are the priority,” Fox said.
Fox said he likes to lead by example.
“I pride myself in leading from love. So, demonstrating that you care about what you are doing and showing younger cadets that they don’t have to be scared of the horses. I like showing people that if you work hard for something, you’re going to get it,” he said.
Cadets’ responsibilities grow over time as they start by learning from more experienced cadets and eventually teach their subordinates.
Freshmen at Culver are called fourth classmen and participate in the new cadet system where they learn to make their bed, clean their room, shine their shoes and wear a presentable uniform. During a week in winter, new cadets go through a series of inspections, drill and ceremony performances, and a board interview to test their knowledge, understanding, and commitment to Culver’s virtues, values and leadership system.
As third classmen, cadets continue to learn to follow and to take care of themselves, while also being assigned to official positions of leadership. They become team leaders where they are assigned one or two new cadets, making sure all their needs are being met.
“You’re like their big brother, making sure they are adjusting well to Culver,” Seeley said.
Being a team leader trains cadets to lead bigger groups, Afari-Aikins said.
“For me, especially as a team leader and a squad leader, I learned a lot of the interpersonal skills needed to be a good leader,” he said.
Third classmen also can be assigned as unit clerks, guidon bearers, and other auxiliary positions. Third classmen should hold three leadership positions during the year.
Second classmen take positions of responsibility where they influence the day-to-day operations. They have the responsibility to assist and maintain the discipline of the unit and the completion of daily tasks and reports. They serve as squad leaders and other positions in a unit. Second classmen hold three leadership positions during the year.
“Your job is making sure all the small things are taken care of so the seniors can focus more on the big picture and the goals for the corps and your unit,” Seeley said.
First classmen take the lead role in responsibility for the military system and modeling service leadership. First classmen can serve in positions like a unit leader, overseeing a unit of 54 cadets, or a battalion leader, overseeing 162 cadets, or the regimental commander, overseeing all 465 cadets. These positions report to the commandant and military staff and are responsible for maintaining the corps’ standards and discipline. A first classman holds two positions during the year. It’s their responsibility to look for ways to improve their units.
Seeley said one of his visions for his senior year is to make sure cadets know how fortunate they are to be at Culver.
“I want cadets to have a strong sense of gratitude for what Culver is and what Culver can give to them,” Seeley said. “Culver gives you the opportunity to push yourself outside of your comfort zone so you’re not the same person you were when you came here. Culver's given them the opportunity to be a servant leader and to be someone who puts others before themselves.”