, Muskogee, OK

Fort Gibson

June 16, 2014

FG native says Thunderbird Academy helped him succeed

Sparky Edwards tells latest graduates to put past problems 'behind you’

Fourteen years after graduating from Thunderbird Youth Academy, Sparky Edwards remembers his instructors — and what each meant to him.

“Sgt. Kirkpatrick led the honor guard,” Edwards said. “He was persistent in teaching discipline and motivation. Sgt. Townshend led the majority of the volunteer work. He always leveled with us. Sgt. Devore, this man was as strict and strong as nails. He was the motivating factor for me when I became a drill sergeant.”

But Edwards didn’t look behind when he left Thunderbird, a Pryor military academy dedicated to motivating high school dropouts to succeed.

The Fort Gibson native went on to serve with the Army in Iraq and run protection for attorneys in 9/11 trials. Earlier this year, at age 31, he became the chief of police at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in Topeka, Kan. Edwards said he’s America’s youngest federal police chief.

Saturday, Edwards returned to Thunderbird to speak at its graduation.

He said he planned to encourage the graduates to look forward.

“The basis of my speech is ‘put it behind you,’” he said.

Edwards looks back on what he said was a troubled youth.

“I came from a good family,” he said. “Many at Thunderbird came from abused families.”

He said his main problem came at school. He got suspended in the 10th grade at Fort Gibson.

“I wasn’t attending school,” Edwards said. “I felt I was smart, but I was bored.”

After his suspension at Fort Gibson, Edwards spent time at what is now Rougher Alternative Academy, part of Muskogee Public Schools. He then went to Thunderbird Youth Academy.

Edwards said he found the structure he needed at Thunderbird.

For 22 weeks, the academy seeks to instill a sense of self-discipline and community spirit. Its eight core objectives are academic excellence, life coping skills, job skills, health/hygiene, citizenship, service, leadership and physical fitness.

“I hated school, just going to school, but it’s sure an important thing to do,” Edwards said. “I decided if I were to get ahead, I should never be satisfied with what I was doing. I had to do more, do better.”

Edwards earned his GED through Thunderbird before serving in the military. He went on to mentor youth through the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program. In June 2013, Edwards was chosen as a Procter & Gamble/Dollar General “Every Day Hero” for his work with at-risk youth.

“I was one of those troubled youth, and I was made a spokesman for the National Guard Youth Foundation,” he said.

The mentor still looks fondly at those who helped him.

“I still talk to my mentors twice a week,” he said.

Reach Cathy Spaulding at (918) 684-2928 or

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