New commandant building new culture at FMS

Dean Danas isn’t the drill sergeant from “Full Metal Jacket.” He won’t dress you down in front of the world. The new Fishburne Military School commandant prefers to take cadets aside for quiet, but purposeful, one-on-ones.

“I tell them, I’m not here to judge you. I’m here to evaluate you. And there’s a big difference there,” said Danas, a 25-year Air Force veteran who took over as commandant at Fishburne in August.

As commandant, Danas is a sort of conduit between the faculty and administration at Fishburne, the parents of cadets at the school and the cadets themselves.

Danas comes to FMS after a five-year stint at Virginia Military Institute, where he taught in the ROTC program. He says there are “a lot of similarities” between what VMI does and what Fishburne does to train tomorrow’s leaders.

“The barracks is a leadership laboratory. You give them the tools they need, and then you watch them put them into practice. So you’re guiding and mentoring and pointing them in the right direction,” said Danas, whose approach at Fishburne has been to empower the cadet leaders to take responsibility for leadership, discipline and growth from within.

“What I’ve told them is, It’s your corps. What are you going to do with it?”

The role that Danas is playing is to lend his guidance and advice to corps leaders while allowing the cadets to grow as leaders. “It helps them reinforce what they’ve learned and put into practice what they’ve learned,” Danas said.

The new system in place has corps leaders in charge of everything from keeping up with paperwork to overseeing basic disciplinary actions. The staff used to enforce the tours that are required of cadets who have received demerits, for example. “My thing was, no, you guys are issuing the punishment, you need to make sure it’s carried out,” Danas said.

“We’re trying to put as much back on them as they can handle. We don’t want to overwhelm them, but if you set the correct expectations, and you hold them to it, they’ll develop and grow in that direction. If you lay out expectations, they’ll meet that challenge. They’ll get there, and they’re getting there,” Danas said.

The process of developing a cadet into a leader is “a four-year process,” Danas said.

“What they say about VMI, and it’s true at Fishburne as well, is you spend four years trying to get out of here, and then the rest of their lives they try to get back. It’s such a pain in the butt to them while they’re here that they don’t realize what’s happening to them, but then when they’re out of here, they realize the positive impact it’s had on their lives,” Danas said.

“There’s an adjustment process. It takes some time to get into a routine. They need that routine. Of course they’re teenagers, so they need an outlet, and there are going to be those times when they need to get that energy out. But over time, they get into a routine, and that routine is something that just grows with them over time,” Danas said.

The rewarding part of the job “is when what I call the clue light comes on,” Danas said. “They get it. You see that ‘I get it’ moment. The hard part is getting them to realize that this is good for them. Some of the kids you see, they’re fighting it. I tell them, Don’t fight it. Once you accept the system for what it is, it gets easy. That’s the clue light.”

More FMS news at www.FishburneTimesConnect.org.



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