Back Channels: An officer's salute to inspiration

Retired Sgt. First Class Roy Peters (left) and Debra Sample pin on Broades Sample's second-lieutenant bars on May 20.
Retired Sgt. First Class Roy Peters (left) and Debra Sample pin on Broades Sample's second-lieutenant bars on May 20.
Posted: May 29, 2011

Graduations at Valley Forge Military Academy and College are a bit different from other schools'.

Of course, there are similarities. The relieved and happy grads. Parents bursting with pride and armed with cameras. And, always, just one speaker too many.

But Valley Forge graduations also include distinctive moments showing just how different a career path their cadets have chosen.

There is the farewell to the ROTC leader who has received orders for Afghanistan.

The swearing-in of newly commissioned second lieutenants.

A pointed reminder to these new officers, some just two years out of high school, that they are now "responsible for our most precious treasure - our sons and daughters."

It's the kind of life where Second Lt. Broades Sample of Philadelphia is at home.

He has always wanted to join the military. Part of the inspiration was his mom, Debra. She did three years in the Army and would've been deployed from Germany in the first Gulf War if she hadn't been pregnant with Broades. The rest of the inspiration he can't quite explain.

"It just caught my eye," he says.

That interest led him to high school at the Philadelphia Military Academy at Elverson in the Philadelphia School District. His hope was to soak up as much about the military, discipline, and leadership as he could in the JROTC program there. Then, after graduation, he would enlist, 12 years of school being enough for anyone, he reasoned.

Elverson's Roy Peters disagreed. Strongly. As Sample recalls, Peters, a burly retired Army sergeant first class, was "enraged" when he learned his student's plans.

"He knew I had the potential for college," Sample says. "He had been enlisted and said that wasn't the way to go. Becoming an officer was the better route."

"Sgt. Peters really kept Broades straight," Debra Sample says. "He became a father figure to him and kept his mind focused."

Sample wasn't sold at first. As the oldest of five in a single-parent household, he knew college would be tough financially.

But Peters didn't let up.

"I didn't like Sgt. Peters at first," Sample admits. "But then he started talking to me, and he was very insightful, very knowledgeable. If I needed something, I'd ask him, and he'd try to get it for me right then and there."

Peters, the staff at Elverson, and Deb Sample kept exploring options, for schools and financial aid. Valley Forge was just then starting to recruit Elverson students. Sample liked Valley Forge's early-commission program, two years of study instead of the usual four.

On May 20, Sample was one of the first three Elverson recruits to graduate from Valley Forge. He'll spend the next two years studying criminal justice at Penn State. In the meantime, he'll serve as a platoon leader in the National Guard. Once he completes his bachelor's degree, he'll be promoted to first lieutenant and go active duty.

He credits Elverson and Valley Forge with instilling the discipline he needed to motivate himself and to not accept excuses.

"My dad was not in my life, and that motivates me more to not be like him," Sample says. "So I ride on things I don't want to be and keep pushing forward. . . . I'm an officer in the Army now, and I'm expected to be a leader and to exceed expectations."

But first, a thank you.

Tradition holds that a new officer's bars are pinned on by family or close friends. Then the officer takes his first salute. That, too, could be family or a friend. Or it can be a trusted NCO, a mentor who has had the greatest impact on that officer's life and training.

Second Lt. Sample's first salute came from Sgt. First Class Peters.


Contact Kevin Ferris at kf@phillynews.com or 215-854-5305.

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