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RAF ALCONBURY, England — Jeff Lambert and Joe Warren, seniors at Alconbury High School, had a thrill recently when they met, in Lambert’s words, “the Queen’s husband.”

Lambert, 17, and Warren, 19, met Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, during a ceremony at St. James Palace when they received an award from a program that bears the prince’s name.

The prince spent a few minutes talking to the two Yanks in a sea of Brits, at one time mentioning their accent.

“The way he put it was, ‘You’re not a native, are you,’” Lambert recalled.

The two teenagers received the Gold Award from the Duke of Edinburgh Program, a U.K.-based program for teens that requires them to take part in various activities and service-oriented acts as they progress from Bronze to Silver to Gold.

“The young people who get their Gold are special people. It’s not something you get easily,” said Maureen McQuitty, the school’s host nation teacher who introduced the program to American students in 1978.

Students must take part in sports activities, perform a service and develop a skill, among other things.

Lambert played guitar, for example, and tutored others in math. Warren maintained the camping equipment on base. They both took part in sports and Boy Scout leadership.

A big part of the program is called “expedition.” Participants must plan a long hike, up to four days for the top award. They must navigate their way and camp as they hike.

Lambert and Warren did their hiking in the center of Iceland — “the middle of nowhere, literally,” Warren said — which is what interested the prince in his chat with the boys.

The program began in the 1950s when the prince was asked by his former headmaster to sponsor a program of youth activities. Prince Philip has been an active booster ever since.

McQuitty said she was approached about the program soon after taking her job at Alconbury High School in 1976. Two years later, she had the program up and running and had her first Gold Award winners in 1981.

McQuitty is now coordinator for the program at the other high schools on American bases in the U.K., including London Central High School, Menwith Hill High School and Lakenheath High School. All have had Gold Award winners at one time or another.

Allison Clemons, a 2003 graduate of Lakenheath High School, will receive the Gold Award at a ceremony in July.

It takes 6 to 12 months to earn a Bronze Award, 12 to 18 months to earn Silver and 18 to 24 months to grab the Gold.

“It’s the stickability,” McQuitty said when asked the secret for earning Gold.

Warren said, “It takes a lot of hard work to do this.”

He and Lambert both said it was worth the effort. The certificates and pins they received at St. James Palace are treasured mementos of their time in England.

McQuitty will retire at the end of this year. Administering the Duke of Edinburgh Program at American schools has been written into the job description for her successor.

She keeps track of many of the Gold Award winners she has helped over the years. For the most part, she said, they are all successful.

She said, “It changes lives.”

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