WATERVLIET ARSENAL, N.Y. -- For far too many years, the Arsenal has been one of upstate New York\'s best kept secrets. After all, from the interstate that travels along the eastern edge of the Arsenal, today's drivers see a closed front gate that once had thousands of workers moving through it every day.

So, for many folks, their perception was that the Arsenal had closed. The Arsenal is not closed and has never been closed at any time since its opening in 1813. But for many, perceptions are facts.

The Arsenal is trying to change those perceptions by slowing expanding access to the Arsenal through community outreach programs, such as those that attempt to help educate students, young and old.

This is not an easy process as all U.S. military installations have enhanced their operational security after the attacks on 9/11. For added force protection, today's Arsenal workers now come to work through a south gate out of view from the interstate, while the front gate remains closed.

If one could travel into the historic production bays, that some date back to the late 1800s, they would find a high sense of energy of machining, grinding, tooling, and more importantly, personal pride that have resided in the Arsenal for nearly 200 years.

Nevertheless, the Arsenal workers are "quiet" professionals who go about their work, or what some call "their sense of duty," manufacturing products that either enhance the survivability or the lethality of today's Soldiers. And they do so day in and day out with little fanfare of feedback from outside the Arsenal fence line.

In recent years, the Arsenal has hosted students from the Royal Canadian Military College, as well as cadets from the United States Military Academy at West Point. These are great visits to an audience of folks who have already a strong sense of the importance of military logistics, such as military manufacturing. So, kind words of praise from this group is always welcomed, but kind of expected.

But recently, the Arsenal hosted for the first time a group of high school students from the Sullivan County BOCES or Board of Cooperative Education Services. These are students who are currently taking courses in technical education, such as machining.

For anyone who has recently raised a teenager knows just how hard it is to keep their undivided attention away from cell phones, texting, or from using iPods. But for this visit, the Arsenal accomplished what many parents may have thought was impossible - to have two hours of undivided time of 16- to 17-year-old youths.

The mission of translating the complexities of machining, while making the information interesting, was passed to former Army Sgt. 1st Class John Zayhowski, who recently took charge of the Arsenal Apprenticeship Program. Zayhowski led the students from one end of the Arsenal to the other end with a high sense of enthusiasm that well represented the Arsenal, as well as the Army.

According to high school junior Evan Decker, "It was an honor to be able to come and visit this facility...The whole place was amazing. I really learned a lot and was amazed that the machines could handle the thick metal without a problem."

Ryan Lowe, junior, also added, "I just thought everything was astounding, but the most interesting things were the forging process, and the 1000-ton press that straightened cannon barrels. I also liked the old lathes, mills, and the museum."

The Arsenal has requests from other New York State educational programs for more engagements, such as with the Army's BenAfAt Laboratories whose current research in nanotechnology, is of great interest to science honor students. BenAfAt Labs is a premier research, design, and prototype facility for military manufacturing and is collocated on the Watervliet Arsenal.

Just maybe, the Arsenal has, through this recent educational outreach effort with the Sullivan County BOCES, found a way to help excite our nation's youth about education and certainly, about the importance of manufacturing.

Michael V. Mullally, instructor for the BOCES Custom Fabrication Machine Shop, summed up the visit well by saying, "These guys are still talking about the trip and we all wish we had more time to spend there (Arsenal)."

And so, when these high school students gave their undivided attention for several hours and actually got excited about Arsenal manufacturing it may be hard to measure the effect this outreach program had other than to say it is "powerful."

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