Archive for August 2011

Homeschooled Warrior Hobbit’s Flying Dreams Come True

August 18, 2011

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One of America's finest, Ben "Frodo" Broussard, next to a Navy T-45 Trainer.

Since I was a child I have dreamed about flying. And not daydreams about flying airplanes (although I’ve had plenty of those), but deep dreams where I was actually flying! Just me zipping through the air, or running along the ground and “gliding” down a flight of stairs instead of walking. Fortunately, because of the major safety hazards involved, I have never attempted to turn my flying dreams into reality. However, a former student of mine and U.S. Naval Academy Graduate, Ben “Frodo” Broussard, recently had his dreams of flying (airplanes) come true, along with his dream of landing on an aircraft carrier.

Now, not to make light of the multitude of accomplishments that so many of my former students have had and continue to achieve, but as a former aerospace engineer and lover of all winged things, I hope you can understand my particular excitement about Ben’s recent achievements. And as you will see, it is not just Ben’s flying achievements that I am excited about.

Jump back in time with me to the late 1990’s when Ben was just 10 years old and totally absorbed with a book on airplanes. As his mother, Lisa, told me recently, Ben read the book with a “gleam in his eye,” and it was then that he realized he wanted to land a plane on an aircraft carrier someday. But then, at 13, Ben received the hard news that he needed glasses, which at the time meant you were not eligible to fly Navy planes. Devastated by the news, it did not deter Ben from pursuing the dream.

And this is where it is important to realize that the Broussards are no ordinary family, not because they have roots in Louisiana, but because of their unwavering faith in God’s plan. It is unfortunate that I have to call them “unordinary,” but it’s true. There are a lot of families that simply do not know, or do not care about, trusting God with their lives. But the Broussards are a great example of what it means to walk with Christ, rejoicing in the good times, accepting the trials, working hard and having fun along the way. As the answer to Question 1 of the Westminster Catechism says, the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, and I would say the Broussard family knows how to do that!

Fast-forward now to 2003, when Ben was a student in my homeschool coop AP physics class. In these classes, students do their homework and video lectures at home, at their own pace. We meet once a week for discussion, but mainly to do a hands-on lab activity. One of our lab activities is to build and launch a model rocket. It is actually a competition, where all students get the same Estes Alpha rocket kit, but are allowed to make modifications in an attempt to maximize its speed and minimize its weight. Ben took the modification a little too far though, and forgot to add the onboard computer guidance system that his rocket obviously needed. Upon launch, this future aeronautical engineer’s rocket cartwheeled out of control, and sent more than a few students ducking for cover! Now, there are some students who would have cowered and been extremely embarrassed by such a massive failure, but Ben had the right attitude and took it in stride. And that is part of what Scripture teaches when we read in Hebrews 12:1 about running with perseverance the race marked out for us. And if you are a student, remember this the next time you start whining about having too much schoolwork, or you get mad at God and your parents because you think things are too hard. Instead, honor your parents by doing the things they have asked you to do with a smile on your face and a 100% effort. And don’t beat yourself up when the inevitable failures come, but instead pick yourself up, humble yourself before the Lord, let Him lead you, and try again.

Ben graduated in 2004 in his homeschool class of 1, where he received top honors. A man of many talents, Ben the actor made quite a production out of his graduation, which included, of all things, a rap song he made about my DIVE math and science lessons and my use of the phrase “think about it.” Of course, I had to ruin the fun of the evening with my overly serious graduation charge to Ben, which you can read here: Ben Broussard Graduation Charge, 2004

After high school graduation, the improbability of Ben reaching his dreams seemed more real than ever. You see, Ben did not get into the Naval Academy on his first try. Miraculously though, in the Summer of 2004, he was accepted after Induction Day, which is something that hadn’t happened in 30 years, and hasn’t happened since. Some might say Ben was “lucky”. His mother believes it was Providence, that the “Lord moved a very established institution to accomplish His plans.” I agree with Ben’s mother!

So Ben goes to the Naval Academy, where he is asked by officers how many were in his graduating class, and shocks them when he responds with “ONE, Sir!” Fortunately, U.S. military academies are not so surprised by homeschoolers anymore, and in fact they seem to like them quite a bit.

Ben still had the vision issues though, and was content to settle for a position as a navigator if necessary. But thanks to God allowing the achievements of modern medicine, Ben had PRK (photorefractive keratectomy) surgery his junior year, and now has 20-20 vision. The successful PRK surgery would allow Ben to pass his flight medical his senior year.

Of course, Ben still needed to graduate, which he did, and he still needed to be accepted to flight school, which he was. Somewhere along the way during The Basic School for Marine Officers (TBS), he aquired the nickname of the “Warrior Hobbit.” And then, in July 2011, Ben “Frodo” Broussard’s 15-year dream of landing on an aircraft carrier came true. The video below was produced by Ben, and the footage from the cockpit is what he saw. The other footage was shot by Ben as well. Watch as Ben and other USMC pilots make one of the world’s most awesome, and most difficult jobs look easy:

In Ephesians 2 we are reminded that we are saved by the gift of faith God gives us, not by works. But if you keep reading, you see that as Christians we are also called in Christ Jesus to do the works He has prepared beforehand for us to do. Ben did not achieve his personal dream because he focused only on it at the expense of everything else. Quite the contrary, Ben was blessed with this incredible accomplishment while walking humbly with his God, enjoying life, loving others and making them laugh along the way. It is good and important for us to dream and plan and let our children do the same, but it is more important to commit to His plan and seek His will every second of the day. Thank you Broussards for setting a great example of what a Christian homeschooling family should look like!

UPDATE!!! March 28, 2012: “Frodo” received his “wings”, and is now flying Harriers for the United States Marines! Harriers are amazing aircraft that can take off and land vertically! Watch this video by Frodo, he’s flying Harrier #27:

The Other Side of Novarupta

August 8, 2011

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For 60 hours on June 6-8, 1912, Novarupta volcano in Katmai National Park spewed a massive amount (3 cubic miles) of magma out its vent, causing the biggest eruption of the 20th and 21st (so far) centuries. In 2009, myself and some other adventurers traveled to the site of the Novarupta lava dome and surrounding Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes. You can watch a YouTube video of our adventure here:

What most visitors to Katmai National Park see is what we saw in 2009, although only a few dozen adventurers hike out to Novarupta. However, there is another side to Novarupta, that few have ever seen, and in 2011 we set out to explore this mysterious place.

The explosion of Novarupta was heard over 750 miles away in Juneau, AK! When Novarupta blew, a magma chamber under Mount Katmai drained, leaving a void that caused the top of Mt. Katmai to collapse. This was about 1 cubic mile of material that fell over 1,000 feet into the void. With cataclysms of such incredible magnitude occurring in such a short period, it is not hard to understand that entire mountains were shaking and falling apart. And that is what is in the image below, the jagged leftovers of a huge piece of Noisy Mountain that came sliding down into the valley, and was later cut through by the Katmai River.  Click on the image to enlarge, and note the conical piles which are characteristic of landslide debris.

Katmai River cuts through a landslide from Noisy Mountain. Copyright 2011, David E. Shormann, PhD

That’s all for now, more will be coming soon of this amazing part of God’s creation!