Kenny Bergstrom, a student at Kadena High School, spent last week at LeadAmerica's Presidential Youth Leadership Conference in Washington, D.C.

Kenny Bergstrom, a student at Kadena High School, spent last week at LeadAmerica's Presidential Youth Leadership Conference in Washington, D.C. (Fred Zimmerman / S&S)

KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa — Kenny Bergstrom spent last week on the “trip of a lifetime.”

The Kadena High School junior spent a week at LeadAmerica’s Presidential Youth Leadership Conference in Washington, where he also attended the inauguration, watching President Bush take the oath of office and viewing the inaugural parade.

Kenny was one of 400 students nationwide invited to take part in the conference.

Last summer, he attended another LeadAmerica program, the 10-day Junior War College in Lexington, Va., which teaches students about war strategies and the different outcomes of war, he said.

But instead of choosing to attend the War College again, he chose the Presidential Youth Leadership Conference “because it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said his mother, Juanita Bergstrom.

While at the leadership conference, Kenny Bergstrom said, participants visited with government officials and a high-ranking campaign manager for President Bush.

The LeadAmerica programs, Juanita Bergstrom said, “have taught [Kenny] valuable leadership skills … they get access to people they normally wouldn’t.”

Early in the week, the students were tasked with assembling a simulated government. Kenny said they had two political parties: the Nationalists and Federalists. Each party had to choose presidential candidates before a vote was held. Once a commander in chief was elected, he said, the remaining students were divided into either advocacy groups or Senate committees.

Kenny chaired the Senate defense committee. His group’s assignment: devise an Iraq exit strategy.

After the Iraqi elections, he said, “we planned on building permanent Iraqi military bases there and monitoring the actions of the government and people. After several years, we would start pulling troops out.”

In addition to forming Iraq strategies, Kenny said, the students proposed cabinet members for their government, which the “Senate” committees then approved or disapproved.

But the best part of the trip, Kenny said, was the real-life inauguration of Bush on Jan. 20.

“Our view wasn’t very good … all we could see were the big [TV] screens,” he said. “But it was still great. It was a very exciting atmosphere.”

The inaugural parade also was good, he said, although the sight of protesters along the parade route “really bugged me.”

While learning about how government runs and witnessing history was good, Kenny said he doesn’t think he has a future there.

“I didn’t know it was quite that complicated … I mean, I knew it was, but not that much,” he said. “I have no aspirations of becoming a politician.”

Kenny said he hopes his path takes him to the Naval Academy and eventually into the Marine Corps as an F/A-18 pilot.

“He’s a good kid,” Juanita Bergstrom said of her son, “and he’s working hard to get to the Naval Academy.”

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