Veteran Mike Stephenson receives a mentor pin from Freedom Award recipient Trailman Joseph Claire, Trail Life USA Troop KS-0001, Dec. 11 at Life Connections Ministries in Leavenworth. Photo by Prudence Siebert/Fort Leavenworth Lamp

By Charlotte Richter/Staff Writer

Seventeen-year-old Trailman Joseph Claire, Trail Life USA Troop KS-0001, was presented the Freedom Award, the highest award in the Trail Life USA program, Dec. 11 at Life Connections Ministries in Leavenworth.


Claire has been a Trailman for four years. He said he sought to earn the Freedom Award because he wanted to bolster his college applications to military academies and
other universities.


“Trail Life became more than just something to put on a college application; it is something I am really passionate about, and I enjoy it,” Claire said.


He said he began to realize his interest three months into his membership when he took leadership positions in the troop.

Seventeen-year-old Trailman Joseph Claire, Trail Life USA Troop KS-0001, is presented the Freedom Award patch by Troopmaster David Bornn Dec. 11 at Life Connections Ministries in Leavenworth. The Freedom Award is the highest award in the Trail Life USA program. Photo by Prudence Siebert/Fort Leavenworth Lamp


According to the Freedom Award Program Overview, Trailmen can earn the Freedom Award by earning 25 trail badges, performing 20 hours of servant service annually,
taking a leadership position, completing four Freedom Experiences, executing a faith-building activity and a servant leadership project, attending an advancement conference and completing a formal Freedom Board of Review.


Claire said many of his school electives and extracurricular activities counted toward award requirements, including his Freedom Experiences. The requirement tasks
Trailmen with exploring multiple fields for the four experiences.


Claire explored military studies, forensics and debate, though he said his time in JROTC built into his largest focus.


“I’m big into (Leavenworth High School Junior ROTC); I’m the drill team commander, and I did a lot of teams in JROTC including Raiders.


Claire also explored landscaping for one of the experiences.


“There was one (experience) actually that really impacted me,” Claire said. “I planted roses at the Carroll Mansion with an older veteran, he was Vietnam era, and he would always tell me stories (about) Ranger School or Vietnam, and that really stuck with me.”


The veteran was Mike Stephenson, who employed Claire during the summer of 2020. Claire said he was greatly affected by Stephenson’s stories of leadership and navigating difficult choices in his military experiences. He said he was also was fascinated by
Stephenson’s childhood.

Freedom Award recipient Trailman Joseph Claire, Trail Life USA Troop KS-0001, is congratulated by Troopmaster David Bornn Dec. 11 at Life Connections Ministries in Leavenworth. The Freedom Award is the highest award in the Trail Life USA program. Photo by Prudence Siebert/Fort Leavenworth Lamp


Claire presented Stephenson with a mentor pin during his Freedom Award ceremony to recognize his influence.


“The military is my goal — I want to join the Army,” Claire said. “All the best leaders I know were in the military. You don’t have to be in the military to be a good leader, but
certainly, that field has a lot of good leaders, and it’s really common. All the stories and the adventure people like Mr. Stephenson have told me about, that draws me to it as
well.”

Other accomplishments to earn the award included the troop refurbishing the flag pole in front of Life Connections Ministries for Claire’s servant leadership project and
devotional sessions with a pastor during his faith-building activity.


“This is definitely something that will stay with me for the rest of my life,” Claire said. “I may not remember knots or things like that, but I certainly will remember how to
progress my faith and develop myself as a Christian and as a servant leader.”

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