The students’ hands were waving excitedly in the air. No, it wasn’t the latest craze of fidget spinners that captured their attention; it was the clean-cut man in the green camouflage uniform standing before them. The Corps of Engineers, Buffalo District Commander Lt. Col. Adam Czekanski visited his alma mater, Silver Creek Central School in June. The visit was part of his ongoing commitment to community outreach with the purpose of showing what the Buffalo District can do to help positively impact local villages, towns and cities within its footprint.
According to Warren Bennis, author of “On Becoming a Leader”, by the time young people reach puberty, they have already largely developed into the person they will be, shaped by the influence of family, friends, school and society in general. Bennis stresses the importance for young people to sort out who they are and want to be, versus what others think they are or think they should be. While some start this self-evaluation early, others work through it later in life, says Bennis, “self-knowledge, self-invention are lifetime processes”.
In a 360-degree amphitheater-style seating area, called “the pit”, in Silver Creek Central School, Lt. Col. Czekanski asked the group of mostly seventh and eighth graders, “what are some of the key influences in your lives?” Some said teachers and coaches influence them. Czekanski then stressed that teachers and coaches want to see the kids reach their potential. He followed-up by asking what other people influenced them. “Your friends are influences, too,” he agreed with one student, “sometimes for better or worse.”
Lt. Col. Czekanski then asked what the kids were passionate about. One of the kids was fond of horses. A couple of the kids expressed an interest in joining the military, and several were interested in learning about other cultures and world travel. For a well-traveled commander who had toured overseas in the Middle East, the Buffalo commander was more than prepared to tell some anecdotes about the missions he had been on, some of the interesting people he had met, and what it was like to be in the Army.
In their book “Be-Know-Do: Leadership the Army Way”, adapted from the official Army leadership manual, Hesselbein and Shinseki point out that the Army leaders have a moral responsibility to mentor. Leaders pass on knowledge and wisdom to subordinates in an active way to make it more meaningful and memorable, according to the authors.
What made Lt. Col. Czekanski’s visit particularly relevant to the kids was that he was once in their shoes, figuratively, and walked the same hallways as them, literally. For kids in a small-town, seeing how one of their own alumni built a tremendous career for himself provided real-life proof of how hard work and determination pays off.
“You’ve gotta keep up with your schoolwork”, Czekanski told the kids. “You’ve gotta do what you’re passionate about.” He stressed that maintaining good grades was essential to having a successful career—whether it be in the military or in a civilian position. Dale Burke, author of “How to Lead and Still have a Life” says “after you assess the past, then you can envision the future.” By sharing his past experiences, Lt. Col. Czekanski helped the kids understand the importance of planning for the future. He challenged them to venture out of their hometown to experience new things and to see the diversity the world has to offer.
Lt. Col. Czekanski recently celebrated his one year anniversary with the Buffalo District and has been actively engaged in the community since his arrival in June 2016. At the onset of his second year, he is ramping up his community speaking engagements and is eager to speak to a broader audience. Organizations interested in having Lt. Col. Czekanski speak should contact the Buffalo District Public Affairs Office at 1-800-833-6390 (option 3). Visit the Buffalo District Facebook page or YouTube channel to see a quick video of Czekanski’s recent visit.