FORT POLK, La. - The emotions of adolescence can cause excitement, anxiety and confusion due, in part, to future choices looming on the horizon. Soothing some of this apprehension through guidance and direction is a good description of what Fort Polk's HIRED! program provides military youth.

This apprenticeship program, run by Fort Polk's Child, Youth and School Services, under the auspices of the Directorate of Family Morale, Welfare and Recreation, is for youth ages 15-18 who want to take an active part in making decisions about what lies ahead. Students do this by serving as interns for post agencies. The program is still in the early stages of development and shows promise.

"This is a great program for our military youth. It gives them an opportunity to get experience and a working foundation in the fields they choose to participate in," said Marla Menard, CYSS director.

Loretta McGowan, workforce preparation specialist at CYSS and lead on the HIRED! program, said participants have begun to takeA,A responsibility for their behavior, including learning. "They have taken ownership of the program and itsA,A success," said McGowan.

The HIRED! program seeks to broaden the horizons of students as they explore future career paths. "Students participate in two 12-week terms per year. This gives them a chance to check out different work experiences before they actually go to work," said Menard.

Conor Burns, 15, of Faith Training Christian Academy, Leesville, is a perfect example of this philosophy in action. Conor is in the 10th grade and has an interest in law enforcement and fire fighting. That's why he began an internship with Fort Polk's Department of Emergency Services.

"I wanted to get job training and learn more about what to do with the rest of my life. It made sense to get out there and try it before I made a big commitment," said Conor.

The program allows students to experience the work force now, so decisions about career choices are easier later. Learning what they enjoy and gaining skills can be an advantage in the competitive world of employment.

Menard said that before they enter the program, most kids don't have any idea what work really entails. "We aren't talking about chores and allowances," said Menard.

Conor admitted when he began training, he didn't know much about what really happened behind the scenes of the emergency services field. "It's been cool because I've learned a lot about what they do at the fire station. Before coming here, I didn't know what fire fighters did. I thought they sat around and waited for fires. Now I know what they do because I've put on the gear and understand the training involved," said Conor.

As part of the program, Conor received a day-to-day opportunity to view how the fire department conducts business between emergency calls. Chief Michael Kuk, fire chief, DES, said Conor spends a couple of days and nights a week at the firehouse.

One of the highlights of Conor's training came Feb. 9 at Polk Army Airfield. The fire department set up a training session that included Conor in the exercise. "It's important that our training is as real as we can make it. In this case, we're going to give Conor some on-the-job-training by exposing him to the helicopter live fire trainer. He'll be very safe, but we'll make sure he experiences looking into the throat of the dragon," said Kuk.

Conor dressed in full fire fighting gear and listened to the safety briefing before the training began. Then he and his father, Col. Francis Burns, Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk garrison commander, watched the training progress. Burns was also dressed in fire fighting gear and ready to participate in the training simulation with his son. They watched a couple of run-throughs as fire fighters attacked the simulated helicopter live-fire.

The helicopter is capable of producing fire at three different points, just like a real helicopter would in an emergency situation. "Conor will understand it's a hot fire and that there are skills to holding a hose line and applying water to kill the fire. He'll learn teamwork and get real exposure to how serious this business is," said Kuk.

The Burns Family took their turn, along with a more experienced fireman, to attack flames with the hose until the simulated fire was out.

Once the fire was extinguished and Conor pulled off his gear, he said putting out the live fire was exciting. "I've never done anything like that before," he said.

Between training like this and his introduction to law enforcement, Conor may want to have a career in one of these DES fields. For his next internship, he plans to look into the field of pharmacology. "I'd like to see what a pharmacist does. It looks interesting," said Conor.

As a parent, Burns acknowledges that what Conor wants to do with his life changes every day and said this is a great program for children to test the waters of the work force. He said his son has learned responsibility, teamwork and now has a first-hand understanding of these jobs. "A DES job requires a blue-collar work ethic and a white-collar mentality at the same time. He understands that it's hard work and takes commitment. You don't just show up and become a law enforcement officer or fireman. The training has made him appreciate these jobs a lot more," said Burns.

Parent participation can help make the program a success. "The child has to want this and parents have to support them for the experience to be advantageous," said Menard.

But not everyone is suited to the rigors and stress that a DES job produces. If a more academic career choice is in your future, HIRED! can yield a selection of possible alternatives.
HIRED! intern Adrian Robertson, 16, chose to work at Allen Memorial Library, a haven of books and technology. The Pickering High School 10th grader said he chose to work for the program because of the experience it would give him and the high school and college credits he would earn.

"I chose the library as one of my internships because I love to read books and was interested in knowing how things worked. All the people at the library have been supportive and made it easy for me to learn," said Robertson.

He's picked up knowledge that includes the Dewey decimal system and shelving books to library procedures and access to the library online. The biggest lesson he has learned is that this isn't a job he wants to pursue. "It's not really for me because I'm more interested in a hands-on field, but it has been a good experience and it's a nice place to work," said Robertson.

The fact that students discover what isn't a viable vocation can be just as important as finding their passion. "Adrian is a good worker and I'm proud of all the things he's learned about the library and working with the staff. I think it's been a positive experience for everyone involved," said Kelly Hebert, library manager and mentor.

Both interns said they would recommend the HIRED! program to other students. "It's a lot of fun. You get to meet cool people, see things you wouldn't normally get to see and train. So I've learned a lot and other kids could learn about what they want to do, too," said Conor.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16