Kentucky Guardsman nominated for General Douglas MacArthur Leadership Award

Story by Crystal Wylie, Richmond Register

Kentucky Guardsman 1st Lt. Gus LaFontaine, 2123rd Transportation Company, holds his niece Kendall Chapman, 2, during a welcome home ceremony from a tour of duty in Afghanistan Feb. 4. (photo by Bill Robinson, Richmond Register)

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MADISON COUNTY, Ky. — Kentucky Guardsman 1st Lt. Gus LaFontaine, 2123rd Transportation Company, might tell you his biggest achievement, to date, is the birth of his first child earlier this month – a 7-pound, 6-ounce, healthy baby girl named Marlee Elliott.

But, LaFontaine can add a nomination for the General Douglas MacArthur Leadership Award to his list of accomplishments.

As a company-grade officer for the Kentucky Army National Guard, Lafontaine was chosen as the nominee to represent Kentucky in Washington, D.C., next year.

“This selection is a positive reflection on the hard work, dedication and perseverance you and your Soldiers have exhibited during the past year,” said Major General Edward Tonini in a memo to LaFontaine. “You are an outstanding officer who has made great contributions to your command and its readiness.”

For the Army National Guard division, only seven officers will be selected for the nationwide award.

The award recognizes company-grade officers who demonstrate the ideals for which General MacArthur stood – duty, honor and country, according to the General Douglas MacArthur Foundation website.

“I believe strongly in leading by example and treating other people the way that you would want to be treated,” Lafontaine said. “I try to teach my Soldiers to be leaders and self-sufficient. I like to set that wheel in motion and just let it ride.”

LaFontaine believes this attitude on leadership comes from his background in education.

Before he was deployed to Afghanistan in 2010, the Berea native was a 2007 graduate of Eastern Kentucky University with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education. In 2008, he earned his master’s degree in instructional leadership.

LaFontaine also had taught at Waco Elementary, Kirksville Elementary and St. Mark Catholic Schools.

Kentucky Guardsman 1st Lt. Gus LaFontaine, holding 4-day-old daughter Marlee Elliott, asks his students about their art projects while he chats from home via Skype with preschoolers at his LaFontaine Preparatory School. Also pictured are teacher Tanya Felty, left, and school office manager Casie Bishop. LPS offers lessons in art, dance, children’s yoga, martial arts, language arts, math and technology. (photo by Nancy Taggart, Richmond Register)

Returning from his tour of duty in February, LaFontaine used the extra money he had earned to open the LaFontaine Preparatory School (LPS), the embodiment of his dream to help educate the youth of Madison County.

LaFontaine and his wife Kristin, director of operations, offer “a pre-kindergarten academic adventure” with lessons in art, dance, children’s yoga, martial arts, language arts, math and technology.

Since its opening in September, LPS has strived to answer the need for high-quality early childhood education with innovative methods, first-class research-based curriculum, a dynamic staff, and academic, cultural and artistic education, LaFontaine said.

“My desire is to give back to as many students as possible. To do that, I’ve got to train teachers and build school leaders,” he said.

LPS will be expanding its operations to include half-day kindergarten classes in the future. As part of the Madison County Early Childhood Alliance, LPS will collaborate with Madison County Schools (which offer only half-day kindergarten classes) to offer an affordable, full-day option to interested parents.

Although being deployed to a war situation had financially enabled LaFontaine to pursue his dream, his duties in the Army over the past 11 years had also been obstacles to that dream.

LaFontaine had served in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. He also assisted in Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Gustave and the winter ice storm of 2009.

“Every one of those situations had taken me away from things that I wanted to do,” LaFontaine said, “but when I’ve sacrificed for my country it has made my love of country grow. I’ve been lucky to have the opportunity to put my country first, do my duty, and grow in my honor.”

His mother, Deborah Livingston, believes the General MacArthur nomination comes at no surprise.

Even while in Iraq, her son’s love for children and aptitude for leadership carried over into his duties as a Soldier. While serving in the transportation company, LaFontaine would see Iraqi children kicking around cans or anything else that could substitute for a ball, said Livingston.

A soccer player himself, LaFontaine led an effort to collect more than 400 soccer balls from friends and family in the U.S., which he gave to the children he encountered on his tour, she said.

“This is just an example of where his heart is,” Livingston said.

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