SHELBYVILLE, Ky. (March 16, 2012) -- Being Army Strong is a challenge.

Just ask Luis Medina, one of about 1,000 Louisville-area high school students tested physically and academically over the last week as part of the Army Strong Challenge.

After shuttling between a series of stations Thursday at Shelby County High School, Medina, a freshman, was somewhat winded. But he was pumped -- and feeling strong.

"That was fun," he said. "That was a challenge I've never had before."

Shelby County represented the final leg of a four-stop pilot program sponsored in part by Cadet Command that criss-crossed the area. Other events have been held at DuPont Manual, Male and Butler high schools.

The program incorporates the aspects that form the foundational strength of America's Army -- fitness, education and teamwork.

Students were divided into groups of up to 10 in the school gym. They then endured a round-robin of activity, alternating every 90 seconds between physical challenges -- shuttle run, pushups, pullups, situps and jumping jacks -- and a multiple-choice quiz.

Students received points based on the number of exercises they did and the number of questions they answered correctly. Each school was pitted against each other, with Shelby County, which racked up the highest average group score, receiving T-shirts for students and a banner declaring its victory.

Recruiters from Cadet Command and U.S. Army Recruiting Command served as group leaders, shepherding students to each event, operating an iPad that contained a variety of ACT-type questions and offering encouragement.

Despite the recruiters' presence, the Army Strong Challenge is not a recruiting event, said Mark Boylan, the recruiting operations officer for 7th Brigade, whose footprint includes Kentucky. Instead, it's an opportunity to strengthen relationships between the Army and the educational community.

Representatives of the command were on hand to briefly talk about ways to attend college through ROTC and to pass out information detailing program benefits to those who wanted it.

"You may not think about it now, but when you consider opportunities you might want to think about Army ROTC," Boylan said. "There's no commitment, and it's free to apply."

As for the challenge's design, Army leaders have spoken publicly in recent years about the difficulties facing military recruiting these days, and specifically the thousands of young people who don't qualify for service because of poor fitness and other factors, such as mediocre academics and criminal histories.

What the Army Strong Challenge does is get students involved physically and mentally and show them the Army Values on a basic level, said Carl Horton, a McCann-Erickson account executive who handles advertising and promotion throughout 7th Brigade.

"The Army isn't all about going off and shooting guns," he said. "It's also about fitness and education."

Each high school has featured a mix of fitness and educational levels among students, Horton said. Participants have included standout athletes, as well as those with untapped potential.

"A lot of [these students] haven't been exposed" to the military, Horton said. "When they are exposed, they want to find out more."

In the coming weeks, those involved in the Army Strong Challenge will meet with Cadet Command officials to discuss the merits of the program and decide whether to expand it to other locations. Based on what he saw during the pilot, Horton said it has been effective.

"It's great to see a kid at seven in the morning come out and do some PT," he said. "They're really into it."

The Army Strong Challenge was conducted in place of physical education classes during its particular day on campus to avoid interrupting students' schedules.

Claire Schaefer, another Shelby County freshman, laughed as she struggled to lift her chin over the pullup bar. Swinging her legs back and forth as she hung from the bar, she decided to hang there instead, still able to generate a point for each of the 15 seconds she endured.

"Pullups are hard and wear you out," she said. "But everyone was supportive, and this was a good opportunity."

She also enjoyed the freebies, showing off a shirt her group won for its performance.

"It shows off my muscles," Schaefer said.

Page last updated Mon March 19th, 2012 at 07:19