The FENX and the Reborne: The Lake Ann Camp 2012 Rangers, Alpha Company; Part 1

Posted: July 16, 2012 in Uncategorized

Seven days ago I boarded a plane to return to the concrete jungle of Washington, DC after spending a week ensconced within the borders one of the greatest place on Earth:  Lake Ann Camp.  It’s impossible to quantify the extent of the effect this place has had on just MY life and development over the last fifteen years; there has never been any doubt that things are still happening there and lives are continuing to be  transformed.  My return came after a five-year hiatus and it’s catalyst was none other than Ken Rudolph, the man who has been ministering to high school students at Lake Ann for many years.  When I returned to Washington, DC in 2007 after a week of counselling at Lake Ann I faced a hard reality: I couldn’t continue to return for a week every summer because my body couldn’t handle such a level of continual exertion.  That realized, I had little choice but to take the storybook that was “Aaron and Lake Ann” and put it on a shelf until such a time it could be opened again.  On June 19, 2012, the book came off the shelf.

That day, I received a message from Ken asking me to come to Lake Ann Camp to speak to a special group of high school students known as the Reborne Rangers; to share my journey with them, in part because I was one of the first to go through the Reborne Ranger program when I was in high school.  The Reborne Ranger program at Lake Ann is  an invitation-only leadership experience that pushes individuals far out of their comfort zone and challenges then to make a difference in their world by drawing out of them the leader within and allowing them to hear from leaders in the military, business, and faith spheres.  I don’t think I’ve scrambled so fast to make travel arrangements like I did to be there, as I had about a week and a half to figure it all out before I actually had to be on site.     Right from the start, so many things came together in just the right way to ensure I could be away from Capitol Hill for awhile; it was as if I was supposed to be there (and I had no idea at the time how correct such a thought was); however, the path was not without a travel hiccup or two.

Even though I arrived on site in time for a program meeting on Sunday evening, it didn’t sink in that I was truly back at Lake Ann until I was given a “Speaker” badge by the registration folks and I saw Ken “The Commander” Rudolph at breakfast; I knew I was “home”,  and it felt great.  This was a special week for both of us as our dear friend Josue Valdez, a former camper of mine from nine years ago, was also at Lake Ann with us.  As I sat at breakfast listening to Ken Riley, the Executive Director, set the tone for the week by talking of the Gospel as seed and how the farmer lives to sow the seed, a stream of memories came rushing back from past years as both camper and counsellor:  lightsabers, paintball, old friends, my week at Reborne, lessons learned, and teenagers transformed by power that is far beyond what I often understand.

Watching campers arrive later that morning was a different experience this year:  long gone were the lightsabers – except the one I carried – and popped collar polo shirts of yesteryear.  But always remaining were the Senior High campers who yearned to learn what they could from Lake Ann counsellors past or present, as I began to talk with a young man who helped me move my gear from one cabin to another that morning; it was the most natural thing for me to start talking of Star Wars and Lord of the Rings to address issues of power, corruption,  and destiny.  The amazing thing to me is that they listen, that my years of loving this stuff (back when most were thinking “sports and girls” and all I thought was Star Wars) and delving into these mythologies actually have had purpose beyond my own enjoyment and need for escape.

Soon enough, the Rangers were assembled, and I can imagine there might have been a time or two when the counsellors had a Nick Fury moment, wondering “how do you get a chosen group who are all leaders on their own to coalesce into a cohesive team?”  All I knew is that trainees were being thrown into scenario paintball right off the bat, just like when I was a Ranger.  Watching them prepare for the game and ask questions of the instructors was a rather Yoda-esque moment, as you see where they are and what they have the potential to become and have to allow them to walk the path to become what you know they can.  I’ll never forget James Sherman looking at me in my matching paintball pants, mask, and Cedarville University paintball jersey obscured by my camoflauge jacket and informing the rest of his teammates that “it’s guys like that who win”  – an interesting commentary on someone you don’t know and in truth is one of the most immobile on the field; yes, physiological warfare works.  It’s also an experience to be playing a “terrorist” in such a scenario, one in which no rules are placed upon you.    Entering the playing field again with Josue Valdez brought with it another swath of memories from the from years past of the two of us working as a duo to eliminate opposition and take ground for our team (and letting loose some full-auto paintball action on occasion).  While we played our role well, getting it handed to you for the sake of a student learning isn’t always easy to allow (especially when there’s pain and welts involved; I eventually got lit up like a tree at Christmas).

That evening, we all heard from Jim Dourty, a veteran of Vietnam with some incredible stories to tell of harsh combat and losing close friends to the horrors of war, and relating those true stories to the difficult reality of the Christian life and the eternal destiny of those without Christ.  It reminded me of some of the stories that Tom Hemmingway told the first group of Reborne years ago, of being in the jungles of Vietnam and in some of the harshest battles of that conflict, where the machine gun fire was so thick and so constant that it mowed down trees.  Not to mention a tale of a man with a pistol and a motorcycle that sounded like something right out of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

For me, it was Tuesday that was the first big day as I was to speak to the Rangers that morning allowing them to share in parts of my crazy journey, interwoven with the idea of destiny, plan, and purpose as explained in Scripture, and, of course Star Wars.  No one really knew how it might go, how successful it might turn out to be, but having done it I can confidently say that God hit a far-reaching home-run.  Talking about dark beginnings, medical hopelessness, and a culture that defines “quality of life” by a narrow mold which is always shifting is hard, knowing that some medical professionals thought your life wasn’t worth the effort and resources.  Talking of hospitals, scars, and the grip of death on a young life isn’t cheery either, bust serves as a great backdrop to discuss purpose and destiny when one can look at suffering from the vantage of having persevered through it; the manifestation of Hope on steroids often requires suffering on steroids to precede it.      However, getting to talk about James Earl Jones , his life, and how that life shaped some of his roles (i.e. Darth Vader and Mufasa from The Lion King) and relating all that to my own Dad and what he has done for me through The FENX was a joy all on its own; couple that with asking “If God is bigger than this what can He do?” and there might be some mental fireworks going off.  Throw in some “Wisdom of Hobbits” and you’re good to go.  I never thought I might still be using the NBC Nightly News piece from 2010 in such a setting, but I think it proved an effective tool to illustrate the rarity of the sort of relationship I have with my Dad.

When you’re a Star Wars fanboy and you make that plain as the bright burning suns of Tatoonie, someone is going to ask you about it in Q/A and the challenge is to NOT go into the weeds in explaining your answers relating to the galaxy far far away…because “to go into the depth of that answer would take an hour and a half” as someone aptly said.  God takes so much of our experiences and redeems it for His own use, and I love that, be it love for ‘The Wars” or meeting an 18 year old high school graduate named Elijah who literally wants to be the 2.0 version of who you have become; the Congressional staffer with Cerebral Palsy who is an overcomer.  It’s these sorts of everyday things that are redeemed for future purpose to help construct a platform from which to offer hope and maybe even a little inspiration to a generation spiralling in it’s own absenteeism and vain pursuits; the “instant celebrity” culture of reality television and even YouTube intensifies the craving for a platform, the craving to be known…but once you have that, do you have something to say worth listening to?

My time at Lake Ann Camp with the Reborne Rangers has helped fortify my answer to that question, if ever asked, and the answer is YES.

Stay tuned for Part II,


  1. Bruce says:

    When you get to the part where you were encased in Carbonite, let me know…

  2. Austin Krohn says:

    Loved reading this, Aaron.


  3. lakeanncamp says:

    Reblogged this on .

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