ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. -- When it comes to bolstering the core values of citizenship, integrity and patriotism among schoolchildren, it often helps to include someone with a proven track record of personifying those traits.
As a group of educators from around Middle Georgia learned last week, few may be better equipped to handle that mission than one who has received the nation's highest military honor.
Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Leo Thorsness, a Vietnam Veteran and recipient of the Medal of Honor, led a discussion with teachers at the Museum of Aviation March 12, representing a primary component of the Medal of Honor Foundation's Character Development Program.
A free curriculum resource, the CDP is a national endeavor aimed at perpetuating the legacy of MOH recipients while reinforcing lessons of character among students through training teachers.
Bill Kuhar and Karen Wilkins - both full-time teachers from Pennsylvania and Florida respectively - led the day-long instruction for educators, which included the dialogue with Thorsness, who told participants their "job is the most critical."
Thorsness, 82, said he believed both children and adults may have become complacent with their freedoms and that Americans' idea of sacrifice has changed considerably over time, something he added could be attributed to human nature.
"We take things for granted, and every generation wants their kids to have something better," said Thorsness. "This program tries to show examples of how you can give something real because so much is not real."
While serving as a pilot in Vietnam, Thorsness' plane was shot down in enemy territory, forcing him to spend six years as a prisoner of war. In 1973, he received the Medal of Honor upon his release for actions conducted before his capture.
Another cornerstone of the mission is the realization that in order to educate students on these issues, teachers oftentimes have to be educated first.
"It brings them up to speed a little faster and gives them more background on the Medal of Honor," said Noel Wall, Development and Education director at the Medal of Honor Foundation. It's incredibly valuable."
Also at Robins for the day's event was Martha Reichrath, Deputy Superintendent for the Georgia Department of Education's Division of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment, who reminded teachers of their essential roles in students' lives.
"You as educators are crucial when it comes to the goals they set, the values they have," said Reichrath. "Be good examples."
She, along with George Chip, assistant director for the Douglass County Schools System, was instrumental in the CDP's inception in Georgia.
According to Wall, Chip began the effort through grassroots work, spreading word of the program at the state level.
The CDP was created by a team of Pennsylvania teachers and school administrators in 2008.
Launching the program in Georgia had been in the works for the past couple of years, said Wall.
There have been more than 50 trainings across the country, she said, and that overall enthusiasm was high among the nearly 1,500 educators who have participated.
According to Wall, the program isn't entirely about the military but about values - the kind these Medal of Honor recipients happen to have displayed in their lives.
"It provides teachers the values to pass on to their students," she said, "all while learning important academic lessons.
"But it's also such an important slice of history for the next generation," she added.