Retired United States Army Brigadier General Robert McFarlin, of Camas, came to Camas High School on Friday, May 18, to share 30 year’s worth of Army memories with teacher Lori Thornton’s world history students.
Thornton has hosted McFarlin as a guest speaker in her class for the past three years, and said the retired general not only shares his experiences, but also the values he developed throughout his career.
“It’s nice to give students another voice to talk about and especially (from) someone who experienced and lived it,” Thornton said of McFarlin’s annual presentation. “He’s a wealth of knowledge. He’s been in 53 countries. It’s incredible.”
McFarlin, who moved to Camas in 1995, said he usually focuses on his military experiences when he visits students at schools throughout the region, including Camas, Battle Ground and Wilsonville, Oregon, but added that the talk normally delves into a geo-political discussion.
“The kids are great,” McFarlin said. “The fun part is when we can get involved in a discussion back and forth. They go pretty well. My thrust is always for students to make decisions on facts and not on emotion, and to come at every issue with a strong sense of their own values.”
McFarlin encourages students to keep three main values with them throughout their lives: integrity, loyalty and selflessness.
“Those are the values that were and are the values of the United States Army, in which I served for 30 years, so I kind of professionally grew up with those,” he said.
Camas High world history student Claire Burch said that she liked how McFarlin related his talk back to the students and their own values.
“It always makes me pay more attention to a speaker once they get the crowd involved,” Burch said.
One of McFarlin’s points that stood out to Burch, she said, involved honor and loyalty in the military.
“The military isn’t just like ‘do your duty,’ it’s like a family and you have to trust one another,” Burch said while recalling what she learned from the guest speaker.
Thornton said the time frame of McFarlin’s service covers the world history curriculum well, and he can speak from his experiences in the Cold War, Vietnam War and the Gulf War. According to the Military Memorial Museum, McFarlin joined the U.S. Army in 1964 from Trinity University and he eventually commanded the 705th Maintenance Battalion, part of the fifth Infantry Division (Mech), where his most significant accomplishments are listed in the areas of authorized stockage list (ASL) mobility, improved division readiness and leader development.
McFarlin also went on to serve as the director of material management and chief of staff at the Rock Island Arsenal, between Davenport, Iowa and Rock Island, Illinois, where he significantly contributed in the areas of improved use of the Army’s money for procurement of items, tools and repair parts, and in developing the civilian workforce to lead and take responsibility, according to the memorial museum.
McFarlin eventually concluded his career as the first executive director for distribution for the Defense Logistics Agency in 1994.
McFarlin has earned the coveted Legion of Merit with two Oak Leaf Clusters award and the Distinguished Service Medal.
Reflecting on the Cold War, McFarlin said people who have studied history or have experience with the Cold War, remember what war was like, which shapes their view of the country’s current relationship with Russia.
“I think there are people today who think we are headed for a new Cold War without really understanding the old one,” McFarlin said. “It’s an easy term to use, but if you don’t know what it really means and what it all involves, it’s irresponsible to use it.”
McFarlin said the students at Camas High are getting the nuts and bolts of history, which can be used as a foundation for their own additional research.
“(Thornton) showed me her tests,” he said. “And if the kids pass those tests then it demonstrates to me that they have a pretty good understanding which will serve them well going forward.”
The issues students are learning about in their world history will serve them well after high school, McFarlin added.
“It’s important to understand that history will serve (the students) really well as they become voters and citizens,” he said.