FORT HOOD, Texas - Soldiers from 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division hosted fifth grade students from Miller Heights Elementary School and Sparta Elementary School of the Belton Independent School District Sept. 24 at their battalion tactical operations center at one of Fort Hood's training areas.

Schools are sponsored by military units in order to contribute military resources and services, increase public awareness of the Army's mission and to foster strong community relations.

Children in brightly colored shirts excitedly split into groups and followed Soldiers through the area.

First, Soldiers escorted the groups through the companies to see where the troops work and live. They walked through troops' living areas seeing their tents, cots and rucksacks. The kids had dozens of questions about cords, knobs, screens and antennae that the Soldiers answered.

Next, the kids visited the dining facility and met with Staff Sgt. Justin Blackman, a cook with F Forward Support Company 215th Brigade Support Battalion. Blackman showed them the inside of the mobile kitchen that units use when they are away from main post. Curiously, the kids looked in the freezer and counted the spices in the spice rack. The Soldiers gave their groups snacks while they looked around the cooking area.

The kids were impressed by the facility.

"It's amazing that they can feed 800 people in this small trailer," said Brandon Wilt, a 10-year-old fifth grader from Belton.

The children also watched as medics treated and evacuated a simulated casualty. Their faces creased in concern as the medics applied tourniquets and bandages to the mannequin.

Later, the children familiarized themselves with unloaded weapons systems on display. With Soldier's help, they picked them up and put their faces to the sights to aim. The boys seemed to enjoy them more than the girls, making sounds and pretending to shoot.

The teachers said the weapons were the highlight of the children's day.

"They were most thrilled about being able to put hands on the weaponry," said Mitch Hedderly, a fifth grade teacher at Miller Heights Elementary School.

The children were also excited about the vehicles at the site. Soldiers helped them operate the gun turret and let them sit in the driver's seat. The kids honked the horn repeatedly and pretended to drive away.

Finally, the kids sat down and ate sack lunches they brought with them, finishing the day.

Soldiers said the experience was enjoyable and a great way to bring the military installation closer to its surrounding communities.

"This was a lot of fun," said Staff Sgt. Matthew Eastwood, the battalion's Bradley Fighting Vehicle master gunner. "We got to show our basic skills to the kids who look up to us. We got to show them what it's like being in the Army."

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