Ft. George G. Meade, MD -- The sidewalk in front of Odenton Elementary School is an oval roughly 350 meters long. Surrounded by trees providing ample shade in the afternoon, the space in the middle contains a makeshift soccer field and a small playground. This sidewalk has also been the training ground for a small group of students in the HERO Boys program for the last six months.
HERO Boys is a youth development and engagement program for boys in 3rd – 5th grades. Using running as a base activity, HERO Boys inspires boys to discover the character and courage that resides inside each one of them to be brave, stand for that which is right, and use their talents and strengths to lead and set a positive example amongst their peers according to their website.
The coaches for this team have spent the year reaching out to local organizations to invite positive role models to run with the boys and speak with them about responsibility and perseverance. This is where Air Force Maj. Paul E. Heins, Commander's Action Group staff officer, U.S. Cyber Command, stepped up.
“I've learned one infallible truth in my life: children are our future,” said Heins. “They are US! The time and energy we invest in the next generation will be directly proportional to the health of our society, writ large. CYBERCOM's desire to expand partnerships for the collective security of our nation and allies starts with getting children invested in our principles and efforts.”
So, on a perfect Thursday afternoon for a run in April, Heins led the boys and their coaches in a preparation and stretching session before joining them in running nine laps around the course, or five kilometers.
The program's goal was to steadily work towards the ability to run a local 5K race at the end of the program; this was the last practice before that race.
Not all the 19 boys ran the same speed or had the same endurance, but Heins went out of his way to run at least one lap with each group of runners, talking to them, encouraging them, and listening to their stories.
“During our time together, these 19 young men were hungry to learn more about what I do in the military and how we adapt to, and overcome, challenges,” Said Heins. “While they were excited to hear about technology and the challenges we face as a nation, they also wanted to talk about their favorite video games and cartoons. This dialog was priceless.”
The last boy finished the run in just over 48 minutes. The group then did a cool-down session with more stretching, followed by a short talk from Heins before he presented them with certificates of appreciation from CYBERCOM and thanked them for their dedication.
“CYBERCOM is privileged to take time to think and reflect on the values the HERO boys represent: Honor—Endure—Run—Overcome is one which resonates with us all,” he said.
Heins added some more motivational advice for the boys: In life, we only truly race against ourselves; challenge yourselves to be the best version of you; If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together; challenges in life can be painful (like the last lap in the race), but the only way to our goal (the finish line) is to go through it, and the most valuable fruit of our accomplishments is that we now know that we can do it.
The week after this session, the boys and their coaches showed up on a dreary Saturday morning to run the aforementioned 5K. It wasn’t easy, and some boys struggled, but they all finished strong.
Some of the boys will age out of the program after this year while others have expressed a desire to return next year to participate in the course again and possibly improve their time in another race.
“I really enjoyed Coaching and working with the Hero Boys track team this season,” said Amber Oliver, HERO Boys coach, High Point Elementary School. “I enjoyed watching them grow as runners and as teammates, especially in learning to prioritize pace, stamina, and persistence over speed. It really showed when they did so well at our graduation 5K race. I hope this serves as a deposit to their confidence that anything they put their mind to, it can be done, and why competitions are great, it's always them vs them. We definitely have some budding track superstars on the Hero Boys team.”