• Jarret Sonta, director of communications for The Citadel Foundation in Charleston, S.C., reacts Thursday after firing too soon at a clay target at the San Antonio Gun Club. Sonta is among nearly three dozen community leaders and educators invited by Cadet Command to participate in All-American Bowl activities this week and learn more about ROTC. Photo by Steve Arel/U.S. Army Cadet Command

    CLE shoot

    Jarret Sonta, director of communications for The Citadel Foundation in Charleston, S.C., reacts Thursday after firing too soon at a clay target at the San Antonio Gun Club. Sonta is among nearly three dozen community leaders and educators invited by...

  • Ben Minnifield, marketing partner with the Lemmon Scott Group in Mississippi, shoots at a clay target Thursday at the San Antonio Gun Club. Photo by Steve Arel/U.S. Army Cadet Command

    CLE shoot 2

    Ben Minnifield, marketing partner with the Lemmon Scott Group in Mississippi, shoots at a clay target Thursday at the San Antonio Gun Club. Photo by Steve Arel/U.S. Army Cadet Command

SAN ANTONIO -- The last time Que Tucker handled a weapon, she was a little girl taking down tin cans with her father's pistol. She got another shot at target practice Thursday.

This time, it was with a shotgun at the San Antonio Gun Club -- the first time she had ever used such a firearm and the first time she had shot since that childhood experience decades ago.

Under the watchful eye of members of the Army Marksmanship Unit, Tucker took aim and managed to obliterate a couple of orange-colored clay targets spiraling from a chute into the air.

"This was new to me, so that's pretty exciting," she said.

Just as exciting, the deputy commissioner with the North Carolina High School Athletic Association in Chapel Hill said, was the reason she is in San Antonio: to learn about what makes the Army the strongest team in the world and about opportunities available to those who wish to be part of it.

Tucker was among 15 community leaders and educators taking to the range Thursday who were invited by U.S. Army Cadet Command to attend All-American Bowl week activities and to learn about the Army and ROTC specifically. They are part of a larger contingent of nearly three dozen men and women in positions of influence within communities nationwide who have been targeted as people who can help articulate the Army's story to the American public and prospective Army leaders.

Over the next few days, the VIPs will tour the Center for the Intrepid where many wounded warriors are treated, eat alongside Soldiers in a Fort Sam Houston dining facility and parachute with the famed Golden Knights. They'll also interact with command leadership, receiving an education about how the Army and ROTC develops people and discussing ways in which they can assist in changing mindsets back home.

Though the North Carolina High School Athletic Association already has a partnership with the Army, Tucker said the Army largely is misunderstood.

"So many people think it's all about going to war," she said. "But there are so many other things the Army is all about, and it's not really a last resort (for those with no other career options). With our partnership, we're trying to help promote that."

Some of the community leaders and educators who shot at the Gun Club Thursday said they want to help America's Army by not necessarily recruiting, but by simply connecting young people with opportunities to serve.

Part of successfully doing that is knowing what all the Army has to offer. Though Mike Pischner, director of military veterans affairs at Florida International University, served in the Army, he hasn't been a Soldier in 30 years.

Over that time, the Army has undergone considerable change. Its uniforms are different. Its Soldiers are more educated. Its weaponry is more advanced.

And its view of social practices transformed. For instance, Pischner, who spent six year as an air traffic controller, remembers when beer machines were as common as soda machines in unit dayrooms.

"They've quit all that stuff. It's a completely different Army. Even the mess halls are completely different. It's really good food."

Of particular interest to Pischner is getting a chance to see the latest Army innovations, many of which will be spotlighted through the weekend in the Army Strong Zone. As much as anything, he wants to network with fellow community leaders and educators and trade ideas about how to better promote the Army.

Florida International has some 1,500 veterans within its student population. Pischner hopes this week's experience will help him better relate to them and others looking for opportunities.

"All people really see of the military is what they see on TV, and it's not always the best side," he said. "They're reporting on suicides and homelessness. There's a whole lot of different stuff than that."

Those like Tucker are excited about seeing the nation's top high school football players compete Saturday at the Alamodome, but also in continuing a healthy dialogue with the Army.

"Experience is always the best teacher in most instances," Tucker said. "When you can experience something firsthand, you're able to go back and say, 'Let me tell you what I know,' as opposed to, 'Let me tell you what I heard or read.' Having been here and just experiencing this part of it -- the marksmanship and how even that brings more awareness to the Army -- that's been eye-opening. I'm excited about the possibilities to look at all those avenues and articulate that in a real personal way."

Page last updated Thu January 3rd, 2013 at 17:24